Ground control to network researchers

It must be hard to be Alan Wurtzel. He’s the head of research at NBC and the leader of a network consortium that’s working like the devil to overcome nature the disruptive technologies that are making it harder and harder to make an easy buck over-the-air. The effort he’s heading includes NBC and likely CBS, Fox and The WB, and they’re working with the boys and girls at Nielsen to find ways to make audiences appear bigger than Madison Avenue says they are.

Joe Mandese at MediaDailyNews offers an excellent overview of the plan today. It involves a new research methodology that Nielsen is announcing called Shifted Average Audience estimates, or SAAs. That’s right. The status quo is betting on Nielsen to bail them out of the unbundled media world by coming up with gobbledygook that Wurtzel and his ilk will stand there with a straight face and use to prove that the 30-second commercial is alive and well — and that it somehow has value even if people fast forward through it. In the words of the immortal Frank Barone, “Holy Crap!”

The SAAs, which Nielsen describes as a “new statistic,” go beyond the initial playback of a DVR-recorded show to include all subsequent playbacks. Nielsen describes them as being similar to the so-called GAA ratings, or gross average audience estimates developed for the TV syndication business, where the same episode of a syndicated TV show may air on a station or stations several times a week, yielding a gross rating that is higher than the initial one. GAAs are an accepted form of currency for ad deals in the TV syndication business.

“The introduction of a Shifted AA, SAA, would produce similar numbers to the Gross Average Audience GAA statistic but be specifically tailored to deal with the complexities of the DVR audience,” says Nielsen in a report it’s begun circulating with some clients in the past couple of weeks. “The resulting SAA would be a summary of all minutes viewed by the viewing audience. For example, if a specific home watches a given [minute of programming] of a program more than once, each minute would be credited toward the SAA minutes for the given program.”

The SAAs are part of a bigger proposal Nielsen is pitching for an array of new time-shifted viewing, or “TSV” products that may also include analyses of so-called “trick” viewing features enabled by DVRs, such as fast-forwarding, pausing, slow-motion, and replaying within an episode.

Only the self-deception of the Modernist bean-counter crowd would actually think that throwing new acronyms at the problem will make it go away. If you can define it, the thinking goes, you can measure it (to serve the needs of the hierarchy). Regrettably, this does nothing to solve the essential problem of a broadcasting, mass-media model in a narrowcasting, personal-media world. Revenue isn’t the problem; audience is the problem. Fix the problem!

Joe rightly points out that ABC is apparently missing from this group. The network appears to be “increasingly breaking ranks from other broadcasters in their position concerning non-linear distribution.”

We’ll know a lot more about this next week, including whether ABC continues to remain a lone wolf. Frankly, I hope they do, because I think Wurtzel and his cronies are feeding off a carcass with scant meat. We all understand why they’re doing it and that Nielsen’s “new” methodology was inevitable. It’s a diversion, however, and unless it’s accompanied by aggressive strategies in new media directions, it’s a waste of time and energy.

Some will argue that broadcasting must defend itself against increasingly wise advertisers, but the reality is that the advertisers — um, that would be the people PAYING for everything — are a lot closer to everyday people than mainstream media ever were.


  1. sounds a lot like 1997 “stikiness” ploys on the internet. these people are either lazy or dumb. wake up! 😉

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