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Networks to Advertisers: No Data for You!

Wal-Mart is legendary for providing terabytes of point-of-sale data to marketers like Procter & Gamble and Coca Cola. But when these same marketers want to know how many people watch their commercials, the networks tell them “fuggedaboudit.” As use of Digital Video Recorders continues to grow, advertisers want to know who is watching live, who is watching later, and who is skipping the commercials. One reason why the Super Bowl continues to be such a hot advertising property is that marketers assume it is watched live, meaning viewers cannot skip over the commercial breaks.

Wal-Mart is legendary for providing terabytes of point-of-sale data to marketers like Procter & Gamble and Coca Cola. But when these same marketers want to know how many people watch their commercials, the networks tell them “fuggedaboudit.”

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As use of Digital Video Recorders continues to grow, advertisers want to know who is watching live, who is watching later, and who is skipping the commercials. One reason why the Super Bowl continues to be such a hot advertising property is that marketers assume it is watched live, meaning viewers cannot skip over the commercial breaks.

Last summer, Nielsen announced a project that would provide ratings for the commercials, not just the programs. Nine months later, the wrangling continues.

As described in today’s New York Times, Nielsen is caught between its clients (the Networks) and the media buyers and marketers who are the end users of ratings data. Marketers want second-by-second reports on viewership so they can track the number of people who are watching each commercial. The Networks don’t want Nielsen to collect or report this information.

The latest compromise proposal would generate an overall rating for the commercials within a particular program. Marketers would not know if some commercials within a program are better-watched than others. One reason the Networks want to keep this kind of information unknown is that it could identify “turnoff” commercials that cause viewers to skip the entire commercial break. If poorly rated commercials were identified, advertisers might want to avoid running spots directly after such ads. (At present, advertisers do not have a say in the placement within a show, even though it is generally assumed that the middle commercials in a break are less watched than the first and last ones.)

Yesterday, the Association of National Advertisers released a statement calling for “brand-specific commercial ratings.” The Networks claim that Nielsen’s set top boxes aren’t up to the task. Technical questions aside, how long can the Networks keep marketers in the dark in an era where business partners share customer information and marketers make desicions on data rather than hunches?

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