Commercial ratings give NBC Uni pause

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NEW YORK -- NBC Universal's cable channels have opted out of Nielsen Media Research's plans to offer commercial ratings, apparently the first company to do so officially.

Nielsen's decision this year to offer ratings for commercials has sparked a battle in the TV industry, with broadcasters supporting the move but cable channels less than impressed because of inaccuracies counting ads on cable channels. Nielsen has promised to address the concern but not to cable's satisfaction until after the ratings go online for an evaluation period beginning in December.

NBC Uni is in both camps, deciding to go ahead with the commercial ratings stream for NBC but not feeling comfortable enough with the ratings for USA, Bravo, Sci Fi, MSNBC and CNBC.

"Our concerns about commercial cable ratings are that there are just too many questions about Nielsen's ability to measure this right away," NBC Uni research chief Alan Wurtzel said. "This is not about Nielsen bashing."

Last week, after an industrywide meeting and back and forth between Nielsen and its clients, the research company gave clients the option to opt out of the evaluation period. Other networks are believed to be on the verge of making a decision but haven't yet. A few others, like Discovery, plans to supply information but won't use it until it is more accurate.

Advertisers like the idea of commercial ratings, which will get to an average number of people who watch the commercials in a given half-hour or hour show and not the entire time, program and commercials. Broadcasters are interested because it will give them the ability to include DVR data, which was been a major sticking point in upfront negotiations this year. But cable networks say there are significant issues with Nielsen Monitor Plus accurately counting local cable ad breaks as well as some sports and syndicated programming.

"We don't know how good that data is, we don't know if they've captured all the commercials correctly, if they combined the averages across the networks correctly," Turner research chief Jack Wakshlag said. He said Nielsen is working to resolve those issues but not in time for the beginning of the evaluation period.

Turner hasn't announced whether they would be involved in the evaluation. Wurtzel didn't rule out taking the commercial ratings on the cable side later on, when the information becomes more accurate.

"We're going to stay with it on the (broadcast) network because it's being measured in a somewhat different way and the numbers that come in will be of a somewhat higher quality," Wurtzel said. Wurtzel said Nielsen's methods work better with broadcast networks, which have clearly defined ad breaks.

Discovery Networks president of ad sales Joe Abruzzese said that it is clear that not enough of the information is correct or will come back correct until sometime next year. But he said commercial ratings will have a place at Discovery, possibly even being used as currency, when they begin to provide accurate information.

"It's what clients want," Abruzzese said Monday. But he added said that engagement, a growing field of understanding in the ad industry, will be part of it as well. Discovery will still be involved, beginning Dec. 11.

"We expect there will be a diverse mix of broadcasting and cable clients participating in this evaluation project," a Nielsen spokesman said. "We believe that each company should make its own decision about whether they should opt in now, later this year or not at all."

Nielsen Media Research is owned by VNU, which also owns The Hollywood Reporter.
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