Did You Hear the One About Commercial Ratings?

'Late Late' Host Works New Measurement Into Shorter Monologue

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Commercial ratings, a wonky subject that is all the rage among media buyers and advertisers, is now the stuff of late-night TV humor.
Craig Ferguson seems happy his program ratings count less these days among buyers.
Craig Ferguson seems happy his program ratings count less these days among buyers. Credit: CBS

Comedian Craig Ferguson on Monday night made the topic part of his monologue on "The Late Late Show," telling viewers that he had to stop talking for a while because CBS had decided to place an ad break earlier in the program.

A pause
Mr. Ferguson typically opens "The Late Late Show" with a longer story, according to Marty Daly, CBS's senior VP-director of CBS's news and late-night sales. But Monday he paused and explained to viewers that a commercial would appear sooner than usual.

"With the new commercial ratings, programs won't get rated, the commercials will get rated," Mr. Daly quoted Mr. Ferguson as saying. The late-night host then wiped his brow, Mr. Daly recounted, and said, humorously, "Thank God the programs won't get rated." News of CBS's ad effort was reported previously by The New York Post.

Most deals for ad inventory made during the recently completed upfront sales period -- the time when networks sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season -- were based on commercial ratings, rather than program ratings as has been done in the past. That means that viewership of commercial pods has become increasingly more important. Advertisers like the commercial-ratings concept because viewers routinely leave their sets to use the bathroom, get food or channel surf, and therefore don't always watch the ads that support the program they are watching. The situation has grown worse in recent years, with the increasing penetration among TV viewers of digital video recorders. These devices allow people to skip through ads they might otherwise be forced to watch, meaning even fewer people are paying attention to commercials.

Testing what works
During late night, the situation is particularly tricky. The longer a program goes on, the more people tune out, owing to the lateness of the hour, said Chris Simon, CBS's exec VP-network sales. He said CBS is "experimenting with what works" during "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson," and, to a much lesser extent, "The Late Show with David Letterman." "We want to recognize value for our clients for these commercials," said Mr. Simon.

CBS is testing what happens when it moves the first two ad breaks earlier during "The Late Late Show," said Mr. Daly. The ad breaks contain both local and national commercials and last about three and a half minutes. Because the summer is often a less-frenzied time of year for networks, CBS can test different ad formats and digest the results before the 2007-08 season gets under way, Mr. Simon said.

With commercial ratings fast becoming a reality, many networks have begun to experiment with ways to get ads in front of as many viewers as possible. NBC, for instance, recently ran a live commercial for Garmin satellite-navigation devices during "The Tonight Show." Fox recently tried putting in "viral" animated vignettes featuring a taxi driver named Oleg in the hopes viewers might scan ad breaks for the oddball character.

Sometimes, the best thing to do when an ad break gets in your way may just be to pretend that it didn't. When Mr. Ferguson's program returned from the first break Monday, said Mr. Daly, the comedian joked to viewers that they had missed something fun while they were gone, then returned to the topic of his longer story.
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