Tuned In

The Networks Start a New Ratings Service. But It Won't Be CIMM-ple.

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A coalition of advertisers and media companies (my corporate master Time Warner included) today announced the name of a planned new ratings service to compete with Nielsen: the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, or CIMM. (Not actually sure how the acronym is pronounced, but “simm” works for my headline, so I’m sticking with it for now.)

The move is the culmination of years of griping by Nielsen’s clients that its data are off and, more recently, that it does not well enough measure people watching TV on DVRs, online, on mobile devices, outside the home, and so on and so on.

That it’s tougher to count viewers now is clear. But a stickier question still is how much those viewers are worth to advertisers.

After all, the networks may be right that many more people than Nielsen measures are watching TV in nontraditional ways. But as Claire Atkinson points out at Broadcasting and Cable, the more relevant question is, should all those means of viewing be worth the same to advertisers?

Viewers for ad-supported TV are worth nothing in themselves. They are worth advertisers’ money to the extent that they watch ads. And more than that, to the extent that they pay attention to ads. And more than that, to the extent that they are subsequently moved to part with their own money.

I watch the vast majority of my non-screener TV on TiVo, where I invariably skip the ads. Any advertiser who would count me as worth the same ad rate as someone watching commercials on live TV is, I submit, an idiot.

Then again, I watch some TV online, where I don’t skip the ads, though I may look at another web page for 30 seconds. Does that viewing count as much? Does my watching a game on TV at a bar? (I don’t actually do that, but humor me.) It’s complicated—much more so than simply counting the numbers.