Buyers Debate C3 Ratings

NEW YORK While media buyers continue to clash over the efficacy of the C3 ratings currency and the impact it is likely to have on the television marketplace, most agree that the new metric isn’t built for the long haul.

In a lively Thursday panel session hosted by the Advertising Club, top buyers offered dueling interpretations of the metric, which was developed as a compromise measure this spring after clients demanded more accountability from their network partners in the form of minute-by-minute ratings guarantees. (For their part, the broadcast networks insisted they be credited for time-shifted viewing; the result was C3, a mix of average live commercial ratings and three days of DVR playback.)

As chief investment officer of GroupM, Rino Scanzoni established C3 as the negotiating currency for this year’s upfront, approving an $800 million deal with NBC Universal that kicked off the entire TV marketplace and all but ensured that broadcast business would be guaranteed against the new benchmark going forward. Scanzoni’s tactic elicited more than a few grumbles from his competitors, and echoes of that dissent were frequently heard.

“I’d like to see us get out of the C3 environment as soon as possible,” said Horizon Media evp, broadcast Aaron Cohen, who this spring was particularly vocal about his shop’s lack of enthusiasm for the currency. “The headlines that were delivered early on in the negotiations set a market that was artificial … and that cost clients more.”

Cohen added that the adoption of C3 precipitated a greater sell-off of broadcast inventory in the upfront, which tightened the fourth-quarter ad market and caused significant inflation in scatter pricing. “We’re in a situation now where the ratings are down and supply is extremely limited,” Cohen said. “When our clients receive an offer of cash back rather than impressions, how is that going to help their marketing plan?”

Starcom Worldwide CEO John Muszynski also expressed his discontent with how the upfront shook out, saying he was “less than thrilled with what happened,” adding that C3 is merely “a fall-back metric.”

Muszynski argued that, in light of all the granular ratings and research data now available, relying on average commercial ratings is counterintuitive. “The data is there, it’s available,” he said, citing TNS Media Research’s second-by-second commercial ratings data. (Since 2006, TNS has culled set-top data from 300,000 Charter Communications subscribers in the Los Angeles area; this spring, Starcom cut the industry’s first second-by-second data deal for Discovery HD Theater.)

While it serves just one DMA, TNS’ 300,000-box L.A. sample eclipses Nielsen Media Research’s National People Meter panel of 12,000 households, which, according to the panelists, is not expansive enough to provide the kind of granular data clients are seeking.

“Stick with C3? Good luck,” Muszynski said. “I’m not going to wait two years for Nielsen to get its [act] together. And we don’t have to wait. The data is there.”

(Like Adweek, Nielsen Media Research is a unit of the Nielsen Co.)

If the conversation among the buyers was more political than one may have anticipated, Scanzoni stuck to his guns in his stalwart defense of C3. “At this stage, it represents the best we have,” Scanzoni said. “We can’t wait until the sun and moon and stars align … If you wait for perfection, you’ll never get anywhere.”

Scanzoni suggested that C3 has served as a much-needed elbow in the ribs, especially on the cable side, as it has forced many network ad sales bosses to begin to reevaluate their commercial pod environments and a host of other issues (positioning, placement, frequency, creative). As such, cable’s retention numbers should rise.

All three buyers agreed that the next step involves set-top data and actual minute-by-minute commercial ratings, rather than average commercial ratings for each hour. And, in another show of solidarity, the three execs eyeballed a two- to three-year wait before true commercial ratings become the currency.

“We’ll come out of this year quite a bit smarter,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, I think there will be a succession of steps before we get there … and each step could cost our clients even more.”

“Five years from now, we’re going to look back and say how ridiculous it was for us to have used this antiquated data,” Muszynski said. “By then, much of our time will be devoted to working on addressability, telescoping … all the things we’ll need to fix the target.”

Scanzoni agreed. “As the audience erodes, we have to make those small numbers work even harder and reduce the waste,” he said. “The good news is we’re not far from getting there.”