Nielsen Now Counting All Runs

In a nod to modern viewing habits, Nielsen is modifying the way it tallies “average audience” ratings, and most syndicators support the change.

Up until the week ended April 3, Nielsen looked at national ratings as either average audience (AA) or gross average audience (GAA).

In AA ratings, only one daily viewing of a show was counted in a show’s national ratings average. For example, if a viewer watched both daily runs of CBS Television Distribution’s Judge Judy and both episodes included the same batch of national commercials, only one viewing would be counted in the show’s AA ratings. Both viewings, however, would be counted in the GAA rating.

In many cases, but particularly in the cases of shows with robust double-runs such as Judy or Warner Bros.’ Twoand a Half Men, the GAA rating paints a much stronger performance picture. All syndicators sell national advertising in syndicated shows on a GAA basis.

“The perception is that Oprah has the most viewers in daytime, but the reality is Judy does,” says John Nogawski, president of CBS Television Distribution. “Nielsen’s latest changes now accurately reflect this.”

As it moves into offering extended screen ratings, Nielsen is working to establish a rating that includes all program viewing that takes place within a single day, regardless of platform. If a viewer watches CBS Television Distribution’s Oprah after picking the kids up from school and then again on their DVR before going to bed, both of those views will now be counted in Nielsen’s new AA rating, says Pat McDonough, Nielsen senior VP of insights and analysis.

“This is a recognition that the same content is going to be watched whether it’s online, on a DVR, live or on video-on-demand,” McDonough says. “If I watch a show all of those times, I should be counted all of those times.”

While this change will apply across all of television— primetime, cable and syndication—using the GAA rating instead of the AA rating is an argument that syndicators have been making to the media for years. Up until now, media—including B&C—have used only AA ratings when considering any syndicated show’s performance. This was because the AA rating was considered to be a more consistent look at how all shows were performing, since not all shows have the benefit of double runs.

Online platforms and DVRs changed that, however, and now all shows have the opportunity to be seen several times per day.

“Viewer behavior across platforms is so important as we move into this new space,” says Liz Huszarik, senior VP of Warner Bros. Media Research & Insights. “We want to understand how viewing is evolving across media, and then we want to understand how to monetize it.”

In order to be counted in the new AA rating, programs must include the same raft of national commercials. Online views of an episode of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, for example, won’t be counted in the new rating if the online version comes with a different national commercial load.

The currency of the television ad sales business remains the C3 rating, which measures viewership of commercials— not the programs in which those ads are placed— over three days of viewing. The average audience program ratings will be incorporated into the C3 ratings, but AA ratings also will be separately available. Nielsen expects buyers and sellers of TV time will want both.

“The way people buy commercials is geared around advertisers wanting to reach enough people to cover their target demographic,” says McDonough. “Once that’s accomplished, advertisers know they’ve reached enough people to sell a certain amount of product.”

With the methodology change, reporters now will report a number that reflects cumulative audience numbers. And advertisers will buy ad time based on a number that includes online airings. How this will affect ad loads in online plays remains to be seen, although some posit that networks will be more inclined to air the same batch of national commercials when a show airs online in order to reap the positive ratings result. Online shows that air with different commercial loads will be given a separate rating.

While the change marks an important distinction for national syndicators and advertisers, it does not affect local television stations. Says one station executive: “Stations are only looking at local ratings, and those can differ wildly from a show’s national rating.”

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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.