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C3 or C7? Maybe Neither, as Specific Spot Ratings Near

The continuing debate about whether media buys should be made based on C3 ratings—the current standard, which includes digital video recorder playback over three days—or C7, which incorporates seven days of delayed viewing, misses a larger point. Neither of those measurements are what advertisers who are footing the bill say they want.

In polls by the Association of National Advertisers, 82% of members say they want to be able to get ratings for their own specific commercials. The current C3 and C7 figures represent the average for all spots aired during a program.

In 2011, Rentrak introduced its Exact Commercial Ratings product, which is based on live viewing. Now, according to Bruce Goerlich, chief research officer at Rentrak, the company is about a month away from including DVR playback as part of that measurement. Rentrak will also produce a C3 equivalent metric enabling marketers and agencies to compare the performance of their spots to both the other spots in a program and the program itself.

The timing would make these new numbers available just in time for use in this year’s upfront negotiations. Selecting a currency for media buys is between a network, the agencies and their clients. “I can’t speak to that,” Goerlich said, adding, “I think you’ll see some interesting things happen in this upfront.” Before joining Rentrak, Goerlich was on the agency side as president of strategic resources for Zenith Optimedia North America.

Nine of the top 13 media agencies get ratings data from Rentrak. Rentrak’s TV Essentials national ratings, as well as its local StationView Essentials, are in the process of being audited by the Media Rating Council, which certifies the reliability of media measurement systems. The MRC does its work on its own schedule and might not be done with its review before upfront negotiations commence. But as Goerlich points out, the industry relied on C3 as currency for a couple of years before it was accredited by the MRC.

C3 was adopted in 2007 as a compromise measure as the supply of live network ratings points was being eaten away by DVRs. DVRs were also encouraging ad skipping, and marketers wanted a way to make sure they were paying for viewers who actually watched their spots and not for people who were zipping or zapping them with their remote controls.

But advertisers say they want to know more than C3 is telling them. Rentrak’s Exact Commercial Ratings provides more information about specific spots, but this could be a case of “be careful what you wish for,” because more data can mean more problems, or at least more to analyze. For example, if the first spot in a pod draws a 20% higher audience, should networks be able to charge 20% more for it? Or if a spot raises (or lowers) ratings of the ads that follow it, should it get a better price (or pay a penalty)?

Last month, Goerlich presented data from Rentrak’s Exact Commercial Ratings system to an ANA Commercial Ratings Summit. He showed how the data helps clients improve ad effectiveness by allowing them to compare the ratings of their spot to those of the program’s commercial average, and to see the effect a position within a commercial pod has on an individual ad.

In one example, Goerlich looked at one spot for Subway that ran in CBS’ 60 Minutes during October. The show had a 12.90 rating, while the commercial registered a 14.60 rating. (Ratings for the other spots following Subway in that pod ranged from a 14.05 to a 13.91.)

The system also allows advertisers to look beyond age and sex demographics to evaluate how well different networks are reaching specific target audiences.

At the conference, using Exact Commercial Ratings was not discussed because of antitrust concerns. “We just wanted to talk about what we could do today in terms of our clients’ ability to do strategy analysis with it,” Goerlich said. “In fact, a lot of those analyses that I included were things our clients were looking at today.”

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