In an official client communication sent out today, Nielsen said it would "temporarily postpone the release of the average commercial minute MIT evaluation data."
Nielsen released some new analysis Oct. 30 about when people actually watch material on their DVRs over the course of a week. That analysis prompted the broadcast networks and agencies to renew an ongoing debate (see rounds one through four in the "Great Commercial-Ratings Debate") about Nielsen's three data streams, which calculate viewing based on people watching shows live, recorded but on the same day and within seven days.
The debate was at the heart of the upfront negotiations, and while ABC and NBC initially took a tough stance and said they wanted to be paid for viewers watching shows on DVRs, agencies said they would only pay for people watching live and ultimately won the debate.
"We concluded that the best course of action is to have, as soon as possible, further discussions with national clients regarding the possibility of a new data stream for commercial-minute data in order to ensure that the data file that is released contains the information that clients need," Nielsen said in its letter to clients.
Some of the broadcast networks had argued the live data stream wouldn't be needed anymore because those watching commercials the same day would be recorded and added to the commercial rating. Agencies have said they don't want to pay for viewers watching their ads days later because, for instance, an advertised sale may be over or a movie may have opened already.
Special meeting planned
Nielsen is planning a special meeting with national clients to discuss the topic further. The release of commercial-minute data had been slated for mid-November but was pushed back to Dec. 11 after the cable industry complained its numbers might be faulty using Nielsen's current methodology. The cable industry's biggest players later opted out of providing agencies with the numbers.
Lyle Schwartz, managing partner-director of national broadcast research and marketplace analysis at Group M, has spearheaded the concept of working with the networks to come up with usable commercial ratings over the last few months. He explained that the various parties were still analyzing the DVR playback data released Oct. 30. The data seems to suggest that most people, around 90%, have watched the ads within three days of recording a show while only 1% are watching at the seven day point. That is leading agencies to call for a fourth stream of data, maybe "live plus three days." Nielsen has agreed in the short term to add a fourth stream, but will only provide three when the data moves out of its test phase.
"The most we delay it, the less time we have to analyze accuracy and handle other issues that might arise. I get concerned that as we get closer to the upfront it will cause people to do the analysis quicker," said Mr. Schwartz, who added, however, that it was better to have participants iron out all the issues now than later once the data is released.
In its note to clients, Nielsen also addressed the syndication industry, which had been told commercial-ratings data couldn't be provided for them until next May because of problems with the way it's measured.
The postponement is a significant setback for the broadcast networks and syndicators, which are eager to have commercial ratings as soon as possible. The more delays there are, the less likely it is the data can be used in the upfront negotiating process, which starts in May.