Curiously absent from these conversations are advertisers, the companies spending more than $40 billion annually on national TV advertising. They have a pivotal stake in a ratings system and should have a direct voice in its design. If not, they expose themselves to great risk in letting others decide the basis for how they will be paying for airtime and measuring brand performance.
Advertisers' demand for accountability and brand ROI analysis continues to accelerate. TV ratings are a key metric in this regard. The industry's current plan to report on average commercial audience doesn't move us toward brand ROI because individual brand performance is not being reported. Advertisers need more granular detail that can only come from minute-by-minute or even second-by-second information to determine how their specific brand message performed.
Is the industry planning to meet this requirement? If the ratings infrastructure is built correctly from the beginning, with an eye toward the ultimate goal of detailed, specific brand information, we have a good chance of success. Otherwise, it could be very difficult, costly and disruptive to retrofit in later years.
In the current development process, the entire industry -- media companies, ad agencies and advertisers alike -- needs to rally around two core principles that will have an impact on brand performance measurement: accuracy and choice.
Commercial ratings are derived by merging two time-stamped data streams. One is occurrence records of when the spots actually aired, and the second is the audience counts. Occurrence data are the backbone. The more accurate and granular the occurrence data, the more accurate and relevant the entire integrated stream of data.
While Nielsen is the monopoly provider of the audience counts, there is a choice for commercial occurrence data -- but only if industry parties step forward and take control of the selection process. Nielsen has been proceeding with its in-house occurrence data as a fait accompli despite numerous concerns voiced about the accuracy of these data. TNS Media Intelligence has the capability now -- not somewhere down the road -- to provide the granular detail needed to lead the industry to where it needs to be.
If there's one lesson to be learned from historical experience with audience measurement systems here and abroad, it's that choice and competition in the marketplace drive innovation and improved quality. Now is the time for the advertising industry to seize control and demand an independent, public and comparative assessment of the two sources of ad-monitoring data that can be used to build a commercial ratings system. A determination of accuracy at all relevant levels, including correct identification of brands and creative copy, will help ensure the quality and value of the commercial ratings currency used to transact business and evaluate brand performance.
As the commercial ratings debate continues over the next several months, the entire industry must be proactive and vocal, and that includes the advertisers.
The entire industry must demand accuracy and choice -- or risk losing both.
In this case, silence isn't golden. It will cost us dearly.
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Steven Fredericks is president-CEO of TNS Media Intelligence and the author of a new book, "StrADegy: Advertising in the Digital Age." For more information, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit TNS Media Intelligence at www.tns-mi.com.