Monday, September 27, 2004

Nielsen finally rates commercials! So what?

For years, advertisers have been trying to get Nielsen to report on the audiences for commercial breaks, instead of just the audiences for television programs. Everybody knows that the audience shifts when commercials come on: some people go to the kitchen, some go to the bathroom, some surf the channels till their show returns. Advertisers want to know who is actually watching their ads, instead of inferring this from who is watching the shows around the ads. Now Nielsen has agreed to provide minute-by-minute audience stats right through the commercial breaks.

Advertisers are delighted, though it will probably cost them millions to get the data.

The question is “why does it matter?” The information will tell them nothing useful, other than perhaps giving them ammunition to bargain down the rates charged by the broadcasters. But since all networks will probably have similar audience attrition during breaks, the relative desirability of their ad slots will probably not change.

Audience composition and size during a break does not matter, because it is bound to be more dynamic and less predictable than audience composition during the television program. And the actual content of the ads will have a bearing on audience retention – a slot with some popular creatives will retain audience, while a slot with less riveting ads will lose audience. So the data for a particular slot is not predictive of the data for the same slot the following week, unless the ads don’t change. And there are much cheaper ways of testing the attention-grabbing power of an ad than handing over millions of dollars to Nielsen.

What will be interesting, though, is to know the average scale of the audience loss and how it varies in size and composition as the evening progresses. Interesting, but not particularly actionable.

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