The new, easy-to-use average-commercial-minute data file will be released for broadcast networks, cable and syndication on May 31. That decision alleviates some fears the data would be released in piecemeal fashion, with Nielsen clients having to wait for substantial issues to be cleared up for cable and syndication.
"Client feedback was split between releasing this new file on May 31 ... vs. releasing it on April 24 without syndication," according to a Nielsen press release. "We determined that the best approach is to release the complete product at the end of May." The news is a small victory for syndicators, who were concerned they'd be at a disadvantage during the upfront.
Not this year
The timeline makes it almost certain that the average-commercial-minute product will not become the new industry currency during this upfront. Agencies generally need around three months to analyze data and make full-year projections.
The average-commercial-minute report will provide commercial-viewing data averaged across a single pod. The product is supported by some as a replacement for program ratings as the standard industry currency. Group M media agencies in particular have pushed for this as a way to move the TV buying business forward in unison.
Nielsen said today that beginning the first week of May, it will provide six separate streams of data for the average-commercial-minute file: live viewing; live viewing plus DVR playback on the same day; and live viewing plus DVR playback within one day (live plus 27 hours), two days (live plus 51 hours), three days (live plus 75 hours) and seven days.
Nielsen said it defined playback within one day as playback within 27 hours because of a strong feeling among clients that a 24-hour window would not capture people playing back their 8 p.m. Sunday shows at 8 p.m. on Monday, which is the most likely viewer behavior.
Other commercial-minutes measures
This release schedule doesn't mean a way to measure how many people watch commercials won't be a factor in this year's upfront, when networks sell their ad inventory to advertisers. The average commercial minute is just one of three Nielsen measures that are widely termed "commercial minutes." Agencies also use Nielsen's NPower software and All Minute Data File.
Nielsen has updated both of those products to enable clients to get a better grasp on commercial ratings. NPower will allow clients to look at individual minute ratings at any interval of DVR playback, from one minute after the broadcast to seven days afterward. That data will be available on Jan. 29 and will be backdated to the start of the month. Previously, clients had been able to see only three data streams: live, live plus same day and live plus seven days.
The All Minute Data File allows clients to download Nielsen's raw data into their own software. Again, clients will be able to view any individualized minutes. The file will be updated on April 24 and include viewing from the start of April.
A new industry currency?
The already complex commercial-ratings debate can now move beyond discussion of the data Nielsen is able to provide and address the question of an industrywide standard. One possible outcome of this surfeit of data is that the industry ends up with no fixed currency.
Starcom USA is already analyzing second-by-second data from other sources, such as cable multiple systems operators, to find the true value of a client's ad spot, especially one that is an unusual length, say only 10 seconds long. Nielsen's products, because they're based on minutes, still make it hard to measure the true rating for such a spot. But Starcom pushed for commercial-ratings deals even at last year's upfront. The agency is hardly going to wait around for the rest of the industry to decide on a standard this year.
For sales executives, the prospect of agencies all using different metrics could be as contentious as the "live plus" debate that raged in the last upfront. The question was whether advertisers should pay for viewers watching shows -- but perhaps not commercials -- on DVRs up to seven days after the shows had been broadcast.
The idea of commercial ratings really took off a year ago as a reaction to increased DVR use. Commercial ratings appeared to be a solution both buyers and sellers could live with, but it has since devolved into a complicated debate covering everything from how a commercial rating should be defined to whether Nielsen can accurately capture and record viewing behavior, something the cable industry is particularly concerned about.
One agency executive admitted last week that advertisers had been getting extra ratings points without charge, given that live viewing became the agreed-upon currency during the upfront. The result of that agreement was that if many more people watched ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" in playback, agencies, on behalf of their clients, didn't have to pay for them. (The argument has centered on whether anyone watches commercials when viewing shows on a DVR.) However the great commercial-ratings debate shakes out, this year, the executive said, agencies and their clients will have to give back some ground.