The subject is expected to be at the top of the agenda at the Association of National Advertisers' TV Forum, kicking off March 20. Andrew Jung, senior director-advertising and media services for Kellogg Co., is scheduled to speak on the subject.
How spots perform
Marketers ultimately want to get to a place where they know how their individual spots perform, said Bill Duggan, ANA's exec VP-committees. After all, marketers are spending some $70 billion a year on those commercials. Average commercial ratings, the currency being pushed in some corners of the agency world, are more helpful than program ratings, he said, but don't go far enough to answer marketers' most pressing question: Who saw my ad?
"It is the era of accountability and advertisers want to know how many people saw my spot. The program ratings are a rough barometer. The message is that's not enough, let's keep going. We are not yet saying individual ratings should be currency at this point, but it's possible we could get there," he said.
To illustrate why average commercial ratings -- which would give agencies and marketers the average number of people who watched all the commercial minutes within a program -- are not ideal, he said, "I could get 30 people in a room and tell you the average height. But if I buy clothes for people of the average height, they're not going to fit many people."
But while the ANA's TV committee has made a commitment to brand-specific commercial ratings becoming the industry norm, significantly it is making no judgment as to what will become standard currency come upfront time.
It's already feasible for marketers to calculate something close to "brand-specific" commercial ratings right now, either through the laborious combing of Nielsen's NPower and the All Minute Data File. (Commercial-ratings data for individual minutes of DVR playback have been available since the end of January.) TiVo also provides second-by-second commercial ratings along with cable systems such as Charter.
But no matter how big those samples are they're not reflective of the national makeup of the country, so that leaves marketers hanging until May 31, when Nielsen Media Research releases improved minute-by-minute commercial ratings which includes broadcast, cable and syndication.
Easy-to-crunch "average-commercial-minute" data will be released starting the first week of May, with six separate streams of data covering people watching on spots on their DVRs up to a week later.
ANA: 'Work collaboratively'
According to a spring 2006 survey, 44% of ANA members said they were very interested in commercial ratings becoming the currency, and it's clear that marketers want to get to that point sooner rather than later. ANA president Bob Liodice said in a statement last week: "The ANA strongly encourages the U.S. industry -- advertisers, the media, agencies and research companies -- to work collaboratively to make brand-specific commercial ratings a reality."
Andy Donchin, senior VP-national broadcast at Carat, said he's unable to see at this point whether any kind of commercial ratings will become currency in time for this year's upfront negotiations. "Knowledge is the most important thing," he said, noting it's important to see what Nielsen's data might yield in the coming months.
Mr. Donchin, who also heads the Association of American Advertising Agencies' TV committee, said he is encouraged everyone is at least talking, a stark contrast to last year when the agencies and networks experienced somewhat of a stand-off.
While it appears the question of what currency will be used in this upfront is still unanswered, the answer from marketers is they won't be satisfied until both sides figure out how to get them the data they most want.