IAG's Rules of Engagement

If you sat on the edge of your seat to watch a gritty TV procedural drama last night, IAG Research founder and CEO Alan Gould probably already knows if you watched the commercials.

IAG Research evaluates how engaged the audience is in programs and commercials, using a panel of 5,000-6,000 viewers who are surveyed via the Internet every day. The simple idea is that if the show intrigues you, there's a good chance you'll be receptive to the advertising that interrupts.

Networks and advertisers pay IAG for their data, and some networks have purportedly used it to guarantee advertisers that they'll get the audience they're promised. In an interview with B&C's P.J. Bednarski, Gould explains how new Nielsen measurements and engagement tools are changing TV.

What are we really talking about when we're talking about engagement? And why does it matter so much?

Typically what happens in a show that's more highly engaged—where people spend more time kind of focused on it—the attention to the ads is higher. [Generally,] the attention to the ads depends mostly on the strength of the creative. But a good commercial in a highly engaged show will perform better than a good commercial in a show that is not highly engaged. So you want both.

What's a show that is high in engagement and one that's not?

Well, 24 consistently has a very highly engaged audience, which makes sense. It's a show where the viewers understand that if they don't pay attention they can miss an important event. So the show works to attract its audience like that. Shows that tend to be significantly less engaging, collectively speaking, are newsmagazines. That's because viewers, to the extent that they're really interested, are typically interested in just one segment.

But if viewers are so engaged with the show, won't they talk about it at the commercial breaks instead of absorbing the messages?

All that we can tell are how people are responding to the ads then. And in aggregate the recall of the ads, given the same ad, is gonna be higher out of 24. So what we're able to say out of that is, instead of channel flipping, instead of getting up, people are at least getting exposed to the ad.

By Nielsen's measurements of commercial
minutes and engagement research, a network could discover a particular commercial that is repellent to viewers. Do you see a time that a network has to tell a client, “You've got to change your commercial

Well, we're certainly closer than ever before to the networks becoming directly involved in the commercial content that's being shown. Only it'll probably play itself out different than that. You know, already there's the move toward paying for commercials based on the commercial's ratings.

Networks will continue to experiment. So, for example, they could create what they could call premium programming, for which they would charge more on a CPM basis. [They'd] essentially guarantee to all the advertisers, let's say, that it would only be kind of [new or specially produced] ads and because it was premium and they were charging more for it, the networks would provide guidance in terms of what they think works and doesn't.

So it's not like they would be screening each individual ad, but they would start to set up boundaries around certain programming so they could do a pretty good job managing the commercials to a degree greater than what exists today.

But certainly the assumption of your question over time is to play itself out with a big “yes.” Because if the networks are only going to get paid on the audience they're delivering for the ads, then they are naturally going to get involved in paying very close attention to the ads that are in those environments.