The way local TV airtime is bought and sold could be headed
for a radical overhaul as part of an effort by Group M to bring the recession
ravaged TV category out of the dark ages. Group M's Chief Investment Officer
Rino Scanzoni has been talking to other agency chiefs, including Jon Muzsynski
at Starcom, as well as the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB), The Nielsen Co.
and the major station groups to explore new ways to measure viewing on a local
level that would bear closer relation to the commercial ratings currency used
to buy national TV.
The debate has taken on new urgency, partly because of the
economy and partly because of a recent decision by Nielsen to phase out live
ratings in local markets in favor of live-plus-same-day ratings. Local TV is
still bought on the basis of program ratings, while national TV advertisers pay
for the number of people viewing the commercial pods.
Nielsen isn't able to provide commercial ratings locally
because the ad breaks are not aligned across the country and the viewing levels
are smaller and therefore much more difficult for Nielsen to capture. Media
agencies have been stuck with the less accurate program ratings instead. When
Nielsen said in November it would drop live program ratings in favor of a
bigger live-plus-same-day number, agencies and their industry body, the
American Association of Advertising Agencies, were furious, arguing that live-plus-same-day
did not reflect the amount of people fast-forwarding through spots.
Nielsen sent a letter to clients Dec. 16, saying it would give
agencies and its station clients more time to discuss their particular needs,
while reiterating its view that live-plus-same-day ratings more accurately
reflect how TV is viewed today.
"Neglecting playback affects both
reach and frequency of advertising schedules," wrote Sabrina Crow, senior VP
and managing director of local media client services. "Using Live Only
ratings data can potentially lead to flaws in planning and buying and
distortion of TV performance, impacting consumer behavior - leading one to pick
the wrong mix of programs and weight for advertising schedules."
Nielsen told clients the transition period would run through
March 31, 2010 and that it would continue to provide live data for comparison
purposes during the first quarter.
"What we clearly need is a better metric to capture
commercial exposure," said Scanzoni. "In the last couple of weeks, we've had
meetings with the TVB, research heads at the various media companies and
One way to get to improved data is to combine national and
local data. Scanzoni hopes to find a way to more accurately reflect who is
actually watching commercials rather than skipping them on the local level as
well as at the national level. "When we
get to that point then Live Only will become arcane," he says.
However, that still seems some months away. Another solution
being discussed is to have creative agencies encode their ad spots to allow
Nielsen to pick-up a signal wherever they are aired.
Nielsen admitted the initial outcry in its client letter but
hoped to find a solution: "As accompanies any change of this magnitude, there
has been a significant amount of controversy among our local client base
regarding our announced decision. However, in recent weeks we have been
encouraged by the growing dialogue amongst our clients and we hope that this
dialogue will lead to the industry's coalescing around a set of data streams
that will be best suited to conduct business."
At stake in the debate are billions of dollars of ad revenue
that stations take in. Station groups have been the hardest hit in the TV
advertising downturn largely because they have been so dependent on auto
advertising, which cratered in 2009. Agencies and marketers are moving ad
dollars towards the most accountable media with the best return-on-investment
According to the TVB, the national and local spot market
took in $16.5 billion in 2008. TNS Media Intelligence reported on December 8
that spot TV took a whopping 27.5% decline in ad revenue during the first nine
months of the year--that's the biggest fall-off of all TV categories. Group M's effort is separate from the
Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement initiative, which is looking for new
ways to get set-top-box data into a usable form and to press for single source statistics
on TV to PC viewing.