It’s easy to forget that, these days, local television and national television operate on completely different currencies. The C3 currency (commercial viewing within 3 days of original broadcast) that is the standard for national television buys has yet to filter down to the 210 local television markets in the U.S. And according to this report, it’s not something that’s going to change any time soon
The bottom line, apparently, is that measuring commercial audiences is something that is still quite a bit beyond the capabilities of Nielsen’s local television audience measurement system; though it’s important to emphasize that Nielsen can provide DVR-adjusted program ratings at the local level. According to Nielsen, they are also not yet sensing strong demand from their local clients for commercial ratings.
Nonetheless, we are seeing an interesting process of stakeholder resistance and negotiation take place between local programmers and advertisers over how best to approximate something resembling C3 ratings from the local data that Nielsen provides. This article provides a great summary of the concerns of those involved and the ideas that are currently being kicked around.
These ideas include a “live plus three with an adjustment factor” that accounts for current indicators of the extent of commercial skipping behaviors by DVR users. Thus, for instance, if a program has a live rating of 5 and a live plus 3 rating of 7; and say DVR users skip an average of 50% of commercials, then the adjusted rating would be 6, which would be calculated as follows: 5 (live rating) + [2 (+3 rating) x .5 (commercial skipping adjustment factor)].
In many ways, though, it seems to me not that surprising that things are moving a bit slowly on this front, particularly when we consider the nature of DVR behaviors across program types. Certainly, DVR users are actively recording (and commercial skipping) national network programs (particularly prime time broadcast network programs and late night programs). And, of course, local stations only get to sell a few 30 second spots within these programs.
But I would think that the degree of DVR (and commercial skipping) activity for the other two primary program categories that local stations carry — syndicated programming and local news — would be (and will always be) significantly lower than the levels we see for national network programming.
How much DVR activity are we seeing for local news broadcasts? Or for Simpsons reruns? Or for Access Hollywood? My guess is that on average it’s significantly less relative to what we see for network programs. I don’t have any real numbers to back this up. It just seems logical. And at least this recent report seems to support my thinking. It states that 98% of syndicated programming is watched live (compared with 90% of primetime broadcast network programming). I would think the live viewing percentage for local news would be similar to the levels we see for syndicated programming. The point is, for a lot of the buying and selling of television audiences that takes place at the local level, the live rating probably still functions as a reasonable representation of locally-scheduled program (and commercial) viewership.