Nielsen Needs Replay on C3 NFL Ratings

As pro football ad market lines up for the snap, errors admitted in '08

With the billion-dollar marketplace for the upcoming NFL season about to break, Nielsen last week notified its clients of more trouble with C3 ratings for regionalized football telecasts.

That won't help the cause for media buyers that want sports measured by the same commercial ratings metric used for other programming, including primetime. Sports are currently measured on live program ratings.

B&C recently obtained a Nielsen advisory that was sent to clients. The advisory says it found five game broadcasts, plus an undisclosed amount of pre- and post-game shows, from last season that were not accurately rated.

The recalibrations affect regional NFL telecasts on Fox and CBS, the two networks that air Sunday afternoon football games, for which multiple games are often distributed in the same window. NBC's Sunday night games and ESPN's Monday Night Football, which feature a single game in each time slot, were not affected.

“Commercial seconds were not properly aligned within certain individual complexities of these NFL telecasts, thus impacting the overall commercial minute rating,” the memo reads.

According to sources, the recalibrated numbers resulted in about a 15% average uptick for the games. That could have translated into a combined eight-figure dollar differential for CBS and Fox had the games been sold on C3. One source claims that 29 NFL programs (or 16%) were reprocessed on the two networks, with 13 of 17 weeks having at least one reprocessed rating.

The error plays perfectly into the networks' desire to keep sports measured by program ratings, and not the C3 numbers widely adapted elsewhere in television. Many buyers want sports on C3, largely because C3 numbers tend to come in around 4%-5% lower than program ratings for sports properties such as the NFL. “There is no reason to stick with live only,” says one buyer.

And while some buyers want to move major, non-regionalized events like the Olympics or the Super Bowl to C3, most insiders say sports would only shift as a whole to C3. And that may be difficult until Nielsen can shore up the regionalized telecast issue.

“It's a straightforward acknowledgment of error, but they don't say that they can or can't guarantee accuracy in the future,” says one industry insider. “The reprocessing in itself affirms that Nielsen is still not able to process NFL commercial ratings with complete accuracy.”


The 2008-09 season marked the second straight year Nielsen has had to reissue commercial ratings for the NFL season. However, a spokesperson maintained that the company could provide accurate C3 numbers for the upcoming season, including an improvement in accuracy over last year.

“We did have a few bumps along the road because of the complexities of how the games are distributed and all the different time zones, but we have gotten through that and are ready for the next football season,” the spokesperson told B&C. Nielsen adds that program ratings for all games were correct; the errors came in commercial ratings.

Execs from both CBS and Fox Sports declined to comment for this story.