STUDY: CABLE WINS IN AD ATTENTIVENESS: WESTERN INITIATIVE REPORT SHOWS HIGH AD SCORES FOR LOW-RATED SHOWS

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A new Western Initiative Media Worldwide study has found that viewers watching cable TV programming pay more attention to commercials than those watching broadcast TV programming.

Also, the study from the West Hollywood, Calif.-based media buying service revealed that viewers watching the lowest-rated prime-time shows are far more attentive to commercials than those watching the highest or average-rated programs.

This study comes as the Time Warner/Turner Broadcasting System cable networks are attacking the broadcast networks' interpretation of Nielsen Media Research's recent Quad study.

BROADCASTERS TOUT QUAD DATA

The broadcasters say that study shows viewers of their prime-time series watch them for a longer duration and more frequently than viewers watch series on cable. And they say these more-loyal viewers pay more attention to ads during the shows.

Calling the results of its study "unexpected," Western Initiative's Chief Strategic Officer Cheryl Idell said they indicate that "we need to dig deeper to measure the effectiveness of advertising to get the message through."

Working with Lieberman Research Worldwide, the Western study included a random selection of 1,600 viewers nationwide, ages 18 and older, who were called in a 12-day period during the February sweeps period. They were queried about their TV viewing the day before.

"If the people who interviewed the viewers for the survey were able to actually get from respondents their state of mind and level of attentiveness to advertising they saw on TV the previous day, they've set a new research standard," said David Poltrack, exec VP-planning and research at the CBS TV network.

DRIVING ATTENTIVENESS

Ms. Idell said the top drivers of attentiveness to ads while watching broadcast TV included paying attention to the show, viewing alone and viewing shows in the bottom third of the ratings. Ads in daytime were given more attention than other dayparts, she said, and those viewers who said they liked TV ads in general paid more attention to spots.

Of those viewers who identified themselves as mostly watching cable TV the day before they were interviewed, those who paid the most attention to ads said they watched FX, the Game Show Network, the Travel Channel and VH1.

The attention levels of those who watched programs on broadcast TV indexed 97 to the average survey respondent; those watching cable indexed 117. As for ad attentiveness, those watching broadcast indexed at 82, or 18 points under the average survey respondent, and those watching cable indexed at 127, or 27 points more than the average survey respondent.

Regarding individual shows, the highest rated programs drew the most program attentiveness -- an index of 123. But on ad attentiveness, commercials in the highest rated shows only indexed at 64.

LOW RATINGS, HIGH AD ATTENTION

Attentiveness to ads in the middle-third rated shows indexed at 55, or 45 points lower than the average survey respondent. But viewers of the bottom-third rated shows indexed at 145, or 45 points higher than the average survey respondent.

Ms. Idell said one possible explanation is that many of the lower-rated shows are more highly targeted to certain kinds of viewers, and these viewers are likely to be more interested in the ads on these shows.

Western Initiative is likely to repeat the survey again during a non-sweeps period to see if the same results are found.

QUAD FINDINGS CRITICIZED

Meanwhile, Barry Fischer, exec-VP of Turner Broadcasting Sales, has sent letters to a number of ad agencies in reaction to Nielsen's Quad study.

"We found a strained attempt to adapt a programmer's directional tool to the rigors of the buying and selling side of our business," Mr. Fischer said in the letter. "We found a study whose specifications are biased to the point where the 'insights' one might draw from it are useless and potentially dangerous."

CBS' Mr. Poltrack responded: "The hysterical barrage of obfuscation that the cable industry is releasing concerning the results of the Nielsen Quad analysis is designed to hide the very simple conclusion of that study: that the migrating viewers that are roaming the TV landscape, moving from channel to channel, constitute a significantly greater proportion of cable's audience than they do network's audience.

"The question is how much advertising these in-motion viewers actually see," he

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