Consider This for A Minute


Ira Sussman
VP, Research & Insights
Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau

Since early summer, Ira Sussman has been cable advertising’s minute-man. He’s the research executive charged with advocating cable industry positions surrounding a possible migration to advertising business negotiations based on TV ratings that describe audience levels not associated just with program titles, but by the commercial minutes appearing within them. Sussman says the Cableadvertising Bureau isn’t opposed to the move, but has big concerns about rushing toward a wholesale revamp of television advertising’s primary negotiating currency without careful consideration.

What’s behind the apparent drive toward commercial-minute ratings?

Advertisers have been asking about the viability of a commercial ratings currency for years. They’re trying to understand the actual audiences to their commercials.

What are the devils in the details?

A while ago the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) and the AAAA (American Association of Advertising Agencies) did a study on sub-minute commercial ratings. It exposed that the data didn’t quite hold together. They came up with the conclusion that they could not create a commercial ratings tape. What we’re talking about today is more of a commercial minute tape, which lumps any advertiser in with a pool – a pod of advertisers – so you’re getting an average of commercials, not your client’s specific commercial rating.


You could have an excellent third position in a pod, but a lousy commercial rating because of those first two.

What has been the influence of broadcast networks on the drive toward commercial minute ratings?

My opinion is that in this year’s upfront there was a big push by the broadcasters to go in with a “live plus seven” rating [describing live viewing plus DVR playback ratings]. But nobody was willing to do business on a live plus seven. The second-best thing is a commercial ratings live plus seven tape, which gets them all the incremental DVR playback if somebody doesn’t fast-forward your commercials, and they think there’s some advantage to that.

What about the agency community’s role?

The bigger issue about commercial ratings was addressed a few years ago, six months ago and then earlier this year before the broadcasters did it.I would give credit to mediaedge:cia. They wanted the information available to them in a way that they could operate within their buying system. Their intention at the time was not to make it a currency, but to…understand the way the commercial viewing is different from the program viewing. They were not announcing they wanted a commercial ratings tape to negotiate from. The broadcasters threw that part of it in there. And once you started talking about currency, it became a very hot topic.

What’s your biggest concern from a cable industry posture?

I think what we’ve been saying is that we and our membership understand that advertisers are pressured to measure their ROI. They’re looking to a better sense of what they’re delivering. When talking about our longstanding ratings practice, we the industry and through the Media Ratings Council have established a very high standard of measurement to be used for market currency. We feel it must be a very accurate and stable tool and needs to be able to be used to plan and negotiate. Our concerns are not about what the numbers will say. Our concerns are about doing this right if we’re going to do it at all. We don’t believe the due diligence needed to establish these practices and establish this currency has been taken yet.

How might cable networks be affected by an adoption of commercial-minute ratings?

This tape isn’t new information. Nielsen has a system which allows you to do custom analysis and take a look at what happens during commercial breaks. And some of our networks are already negotiating and guaranteeing on delivery and performance based on those metrics. So without having a currency tape, so to speak, they’re already negotiating, and they’re leaders in this. So some of our networks have already jumped all over that. There are 60 networks that will be measured by Nielsen. Some will do great, some not so great.

How might network practices or approaches change as a result?

Individual networks will continue to thrive because cable continues to grow quarter after quarter. I think the industry has to take a fresh look at how pods are arrayed. One of the things we are always in the middle of is proving television still works. And in order for advertising to still be effective there will be revisions and changes and it will evolve how those pods look. But there needs to be enough impetus to do that. There’s still a pretty good business model out there.