Second-by-Second Ratings Debate Begins

By The Myers Report Archives
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Nielsen and Media Agencies Square Off Over Industry Demand

Nielsen does not offer second-by-second programming or commercial ratings and Nielsen spokesperson Gary Holmes tells Jack Myers Media Business Report, "It isn't that there has been no client demand for second-by-second, because obviously some clients do want that. Obviously there is support on the agency side for second-by-second, with varying degrees of intensity but… there is not significant industry-wide demand to measure less than a minute. As it is, many clients don't have the systems to handle even the minute-by-minute analyses that are available through NPOWER and the third-party processors. I don't think the entire industry, as a whole, is ready to move there yet. Nielsen has to navigate its way through a wide variety of clients with a wide variety of opinions and needs. You saw how hard it was to get agreement this year on average commercial ratings. I think we'd have the same situation if we tried to go sub-minute."

Holmes commented in response to reactions from several agency research executives to last week's Jack Myers Media Business Report commentary on TiVo's and Nielsen's enhanced data capabilities. After TiVo met recently with heads of several media agencies, industry interest in second-by-second data - even focused exclusively on DVR households - has been activated. Steve Sternberg, EVP Director of Audience Analysis for Interpublic's MAGNA Global, commented "To say that Nielsen clients have not been asking for sub-minute measurement is gibberish. MAGNA first called for that three years ago in our first Commercial Pod Study. Others have as well. If anyone told you that there is not significant industry demand to measure less than a minute, they are simply lying. No one at Nielsen who has dealt with agencies or advertisers could possibly tell you that with a straight face. The 4A’s media research committee (which I am on) as well as most people I know in the business have continually asked Nielsen for sub-minute measurement. Nielsen has consistently said they are not currently capable of measuring second-by-second ratings." (Voice your opinion below)

Shari Anne Brill, Senior Vice President, Director of Programming for media agency Carat USA, advises "Nielsen doesn’t offer second-by-second data and our industry very much wants Nielsen to report more granular information. How else to get a better sense of who is staying tuned through commercials? At the very least, we want to capture average ratings for commercial pods. The only way to do get as these enhanced metrics is to collect and report information on a second by second basis. Nielsen commercial minute ratings do not tell you who watched your ad. Instead, it reports a weighted average rating for all minutes that contain one or more seconds of national ad time. At best, this information represents the potential to see an ad message."

Brill acknowledges "Nielsen is in tough position; there are so many sides of the business." She points out "Nielsen has always had the best quality sample of any measurement service, based on their panel recruitment and maintenance, and their nationally representative sample." She admits "the shortcomings of those who can measure to seconds because they don't offer demographics and don't represent the country. "Quality research," she says, "costs money and the industry needs to decide if it wants better measurement on who's watching ads." She notes that Nielsen commercial viewing data has yet to address VCR recording and playback, pointing out Nielsen has yet to deliver data on VCR playback. VCR recording can account for sizeable ratings credited to live viewing without detail on the percent of VCR recorded programming is ever played back. "This issue has not been addressed in the 20 years the data has been available. Many people forgot the issue is even there even though some of us have been railing about it for 20 years," Brill comments.

Commenting on Holmes assessment of agency capabilities, she suggests she "cannot weigh in on agency capabilities, and we're not saying they should provide second-by-second data. But their data is not clean. I would like to see ratings for a true commercial pod minute." Nielsen uses a 'plurality of viewing' measure that delivers credit for a full minute of viewing to the channel that delivers the plurality of viewing in a given minute. "It's a winner takes all model," explains Brill, plus every minute they have labeled as 'commercial' also has program ratings in it." While Nielsen weights data based on the number of seconds of commercial time, Brill points out if you only count minutes with 30-seconds or more of ad time, you get different information than they are currently delivering. "I still feel this is better information but it needs to be done more precisely."

Brill credits Nielsen for its support of the Council for Research Excellence(, a 33-member organization of senior researchers from networks, station groups, syndication, advertisers and agencies. The group works to provide Nielsen with informed opinions and recommendations to enhance industry learning and build better systems in the future.

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