One of the biggest changes to affect the television industry over the past five years has been the transition from traditional program ratings to the C3 ratings that are the primary currency today. Program ratings, of course, give you informaton about the average size of the audience for an individual program. C3 ratings are based on the average size of the audience for the commercials within the program (the 3 refers to the fact that anyone who views the commercials within three days of the original airing is counted in the C3 rating).
In Audience Evolution, I talk about how this transition is essentially an effort to try to keep the traditional exposure-based approach to audience value viable in a time of massive audience fragmentation and growing ad avoidance. But, as television grows increasingly interactive and begins to look more and more like the Internet (and, for that matter is increasingly delivered and consumed via the Internet), the pressures and opportunities to move away from purely exposure-based approaches to audience value will increase. This is what has happened online, where purely exposure-based approaches to audience value continue to decline.
Case in point: At the just-concluded National Association of Television Programming Executives (NATPE) convention, Google TV Ads executive Mark Piesanen discussed the possibiilty of introducing a Facebook-style “like” button to be attached to interactive TV ads. According to Piesanen, the “like” button “could turn into a signal for ad relevance or basic affinity toward advertising.”
It’s interesting to imagine such functionality leading to a new type of currency in the TV audience marketplace — one in which commercial audiences are valued less in terms of their size and more in terms of the extent to which they indicate a positive response to the ad.
Now, you might say any transition to that type of pricing sounds unfair to the programmers. It’s not their fault that the advertiser created an ad that the viewers didn’t like. Nor, for that matter is it the programmer’s fault that anywhere from five to fifteen percent of the viewers they attract with their programming decide that the commercials aren’t worth watching. And yet, under the C3 system, all the money and effort spent on attracting those viewers brings programmers nothing in return. So who knows where this might go. Given the supply and demand dynamics for media audiences these days, advertisers seem to have the leverage in their relationship with content providers.
The transition from program ratings to C3 ratings represented a major step forward in terms of the granularity of the audience “currency.” By that I mean that the performance for any half hour of programming is now being segmented into the “program” exposure and the “commercial” exposure. Perhaps the next step beyond the C3 will be segmenting the commercial exposure into “likes” and “not likes.” That would of course make the job of being a TV programmer even tougher yet.