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Nielsen PVR plan gives agencies pause

Madison Avenue would like to hit the rewind button on Nielsen’s plans to measure households with digital video recorders (DVRs), and see Nielsen replay the announcement with one additional element: a plan to provide TV commercial ratings, reports MediaPost, a publisher for media planners and buyers.

Without the commercial ratings, say media agency executives, the time-shifted viewing data from DVR users would be interesting — but almost meaningless from a media planning point-of-view.

“This is absolutely about minute-by-minute ratings,” said Tony Jarvis, senior vice president-director of strategic insights at MediaCom, one of a number of agency executives who reacted with disappointment upon hearing Nielsen’s plan to begin incorporating DVR homes in its sample in 2005, instead of its originally planned date of 2006.

It’s not that the ad industry isn’t pleased with the idea of progress, Jarvis told MediaPost, it’s that without detailed data on how viewers are using DVRs to watch or not watch programming and advertising, the data is essentially irrelevant from an advertising standpoint.

Kate Lynch, senior vice president-global research director at Starcom Worldwide, said the net effect of adding DVR usage to Nielsen’s TV ratings database will only serve to “increase the ratings of the shows that we know people aren’t watching our ads on.”

Lynch said she knows this because Starcom has conducted its own in-depth research with DVR marketer TiVo, which showed that TiVo households skip commercials more than half (54 percent) of the time. She said the research also makes it clear how imperative exact commercial ratings data truly is in a DVR environment.

The study showed that the rate of commercial skipping is much higher — 77 percent — when DVR users are watching TV that has been recorded as opposed to live TV. The Starcom research also revealed that the vast majority of DVR-recorded programming is viewed within 24 hours of being recorded, often 15 minutes to an hour after it was originally scheduled. Lynch described this phenomenon as “near live” viewing, which is of particular concern for advertisers, since even a modest time-shift enables DVR viewers to fast-forward through commercials at hyper speeds.

Worst of all, she said this occurs most significantly among the top-rated shows, and the ones that are most expensive for advertisers to buy. “The ‘ERs’ and the ‘Friends’ are the ones that get TiVo-ed most. They’re TiVo-ed, and 15-minutes to an hour later people watch them,” said Lynch.

Nielsen plans to introduce a new monthly TiVo subscriber-based research report soon, but at least the initial version of that is not expected to offer commercial ratings data. Nielsen also does not expect to initially offer any data on so-called “trick mode” viewing, or viewing done using pause, replay, or slow-motion features, MediaPost reported.

Agency executives said they understand why Nielsen is not tackling the commercial ratings issue in the initial versions of its PVR measurements, noting the profound impact the research is likely to have on how they plan and buy television advertising time —something that would have a deleterious effect on the business models of Nielsen’s biggest clients: the TV industry

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