There's been plenty of noise around cross-platform TV measurement as of late, rising from delays in Nielsen's so-called Total Content Ratings, concerns about its methodology and a potential new currency out of media agency network GroupM. But amid these conversations, the question keeps coming up: What do Total Content Ratings actually mean for the ad industry?
The answer is not much.
Top agency executives are more interested in getting to a cross-platform rating of commercial impressions than Nielsen's push for all-encompassing program ratings. As their goal comes into sharper focus with WPP-owned GroupM proposing a method to do it (more on that below), some crucial issues must be addressed. The industry must decide how it values ads across platforms, for one, and whether every ad vehicle should be treated the same.
"How ad loads play in each environment is an important question," said John Swift, CEO North American investment, Omnicom Media Group. "How do you value audiences on different screens? We have to figure out how much advertising is worth in different environments. The notion of pushing one thing across the board leads us to what I call the lowest common denominator of measurement."
It's an understatement to say the road to cross-platform TV measurement has been both messy and confusing. Nielsen has been promising the industry a solution that would account for viewers who have migrated from live TV to delayed viewing on mobile devices, tablets and over-the-top services. It's anyone's guess whether the measurement behemoth will unveil a syndicated product by its proposed date of March 1. But for the ad industry, the delivery of Total Content Ratings in time for the summer's annual upfront haggle is largely irrelevant.
That's because Total Content Ratings, or TCR, does not measure viewership of commercials. TCR is essentially a version of existing program ratings, souped up to include the elusive viewing taking place traditional TV schedules and screens.
The industry moved away from using program ratings to set guarantees for ad inventory in 2007, when it adopted the currency known as C3, which measures the average viewership of a commercial break in live broadcasts and three days afterward.
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