TV Upfront

NBC Universal aims to answer TV's ratings plunge with a new metric

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Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore, stars of NBC's 'This Is Us,' at NBC Universal's upfront pitch last May.
Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore, stars of NBC's 'This Is Us,' at NBC Universal's upfront pitch last May. Credit: NBC Universal

NBC Universal will look to strike deals with advertisers during this year's upfront ad negotiations using a new measure that it says will account for all commercial viewing in all of its content no matter where and when it is watched.

The company says the new metric, which it developed and has dubbed CFlight, measures all live, on-demand and time-shifted commercial impressions on every platform. It's designed to provide advertisers with a comprehensive view of their ads' exposure within full episodes of NBCU shows on all screens, including via over-the-top services like Hulu and platforms such as Roku. NBCU networks include the flagship NBC broadcast channel as well as Bravo, E!, Syfy and USA Network.

The move comes as the entire TV industry grapples with the continued steep erosion of Nielsen ratings, the result of viewers' adoption of time-shifting, ad skipping and platforms not easily measured.

GroupM, the behemoth WPP media agency, has been working with NBCU for several months to find a methodology "as inclusive of the consuming audience as possible," says Lyle Schwartz, chief investment officer at GroupM.

"I still believe in a universal commercial rating and I think this is another step in that direction," he says. "Most measurement companies aren't able to get us what we want. Hopefully this invites some of the research companies to step up."

Schwartz expects to use CFlight in some capacity to strike deals during this year's upfront negotations, but thinks "we are probably at least six months away from being able to do this in a holistic manner."

Ultimately, NBCU is looking for CFlight to become an industry standard, not just something used to measure its own networks and platforms. The data products now being used by TV networks, including those in NBCU's portfolio, to guarantee audiences based on more precise data than standard age and sex demographics are all different from each other. Marshall describes CFlight as a metric everyone has access to right now. "It is so basic and not proprietary to us," he says. "It is easy enough and transparent enough that it can become an agency-wide metric, not just an NBCU metric."

It remains to be seen whether rival networks will be willing to adopt a methodology originating with NBCU or if they will try to put their own spin on the metric, adding another level of complexity.

CFlight uses sources including Nielsen, ComScore and Moat to aggregate ad impressions across both traditional and digital viewing. It is also "flight-based," meaning a program does not have to have the same commercial load on linear and digital for an ad to be measured.

That matters especially for marketers with time-sensitive messages, such as movie studios or retailers that don't necessarily want to pay to run the same ad for a week or more. Some efforts to combine traditional and digital ratings have required shows to keep the same ads if they wanted credit for them, even if a viewer streamed or watched on demand a week after the initial airing.

"We are trying to get TV to look more like digital as opposed to getting digital to look more like TV," says Mark Marshall, executive VP of entertainment ad sales for NBCU. "As marketing becomes more real-time the idea of locking in ads for an extended period of time makes less sense."

And CFlight only counts digital impressions that are viewed to completion. In this way, NBCU is trying to hold digital to the same standards as TV.

"This is a distinct difference considering YouTube's announcement that came out this week which people saw as them going backwards," Marshall says, referring to YouTube's new offer to let marketers buy against quick impressions instead of completed views as usual, apparently a bid to appeal to TV buyers with a format they know.

NBCU will provide a dashboard to agencies to access CFlight data. It also says it will use the metric to create a new currency, guaranteeing campaign performance in NBCU programming, especially where there is significant consumption taking place on digital platforms.

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