Measuring Audience Breaks During Commercial Breaks

Despite all the social networks and file-sharing websites out there, people are watching more TV than ever. The average U.S. household, for example, watches eight hours and 14 minutes per day. This takes into account the fact that there are multiple TVs in most homes — 2.8 TVs per household to just 2.5 people per household, on average. But are they watching commercials?

Traditionally, commercial breaks within programs were just that: breaks for viewers to roam around the TV dial or to simply grab a beer. Advertisers tried to make their spots entertaining or unusual, but for the most part, that wasn’t enough to keep viewers from “zapping” (channel-hopping) or running to the toilet. And the advent of TiVo and the DVR certainly hasn’t made things easier for ad men.

If technology has made life more difficult for advertisers and TV outlets alike, by golly technology has to come to the rescue. And it has. Introducing: “triangulation,” “advanced advertising” “buzz” and “commercial data.”  These new tools make sure today’s advertisers get the full bang for their bucks.

Triangulation is the practice of combining television, the TV outlet’s website and the advertiser’s own website. It has been reported that viewer ad recall of a triangulated ad campaign is 50 percent higher than average.
Advanced advertising is offered when MSOs (cable operators) form a national network by linking with each other. Buzz is a way to search the Internet to gather what people are saying about advertised products and how their messages are getting out.

Commercial data is Nielsen Media Research’s latest ratings service and the one that is generating the most ink. Last June, Nielsen released its long-awaited Commercial Minute data file, a ratings service that measures how many viewers watch spots rather than just the programs they run in.

The Average Commercial Minute data file is currently only available for national audience estimates. Monitor-Plus information is used to identify those minutes that contain commercial minutes. This latter Nielsen service has been around for a few years and tracks commercial activities and expenditures.

Nielsen’s vp of Communications, Anne Kissel Elliot, explained that, “During the 2007 [U.S.] upfront season clients used the Average Commercial Minute data in negotiations and seemed to latch on to one particular stream of the data — C3, which translates as live viewing of commercials plus the incremental commercial viewing that takes place over three additional days of playback with a DVR.” From the broadcasters’ perspective, advertisers are no longer buying “live” or “live-plus-seven,” but “C3,” which are ratings that tell advertisers how many people are watching commercials between the time the program airs to three days out — when that advertising is no longer considered timely.

In October, Nielsen formed a partnership with Google to provide viewer data for TV commercials. Earlier that year, in April, Google acquired a UHF network for the purpose of developing an effective way to measure commercial viewership. And even though “the details of the deal with Google are still being worked out,” said Nielsen’s Elliot, she described it as “enabling Google to offer demographic information that comes from Nielsen to those clients using their ad-buying service.”

TiVo has also jumped on the commercial-measuring bandwagon. The company is capable of monitoring real time and time-shifted TV viewing on its DVRs from a panel of 20,000 users. However, TiVo data is not widely accepted because its sample isn’t representative of TV households across the nation. On the other hand, while Nielsen monitors minute-by-minute commercial average ratings, TiVo measures things second-by second.

All ad-monitoring services provide a way to calculate if there is a need for make-good ads when a show’s ratings fall short of guaranteed viewership levels. The source for commercial minute audience estimates are based on the same National People Meter sample that is used to measure program ratings. The sample is currently approximately 14,500 households. Nielsen has been collecting commercial data from the full sample, including the 21.5 percent that have DVRs. However, explained Elliot, “Nielsen tracks viewing to all sources — linear television, traditional VCRs, DVDs and DVRs — that last of which is the one that is making the most news since it provides the simplest way to time-shift viewing. It is the time-shifting made possible by DVRs that has led clients to ask for such things as the Average Commercial Minute data file.”

The cable industry, led by the Cable Television Advertising Bureau (CAB), first pressured Nielsen to delay an earlier rollout in an effort to have greater influence on the process. But last October, through CAB, the major U.S. cable networks announced that they would not participate in the plan to measure commercial viewership, after all.

According to Elliot, one of CAB’s concerns was “the need to differentiate between national commercial minutes and local commercial minutes for cable systems. Prior to the introduction of the Average Commercial Minute data file this was less of an issue. Nielsen worked with cable networks and systems to develop new software to improve the ability to identify national commercial minutes. That was introduced early in 2007.  One of the reasons that Nielsen delayed the launch of the Average Commercial Minute data file was so that this software could be completed.”