Ad Week has an interesting (and long) look at what to expect in 2010 that includes a bit of a look back at 2009.  It covers more than TV and breaks broadcast, cable and local up into different pieces, but there was one portion of the broadcast coverage that really caught my eye:

Only NBC has struggled with its new shows this season, including its move to put Jay Leno on five nights a week at 10 p.m. But one buyer, who did not want to speak for attribution, says Leno is performing at about the ratings NBC sold it, so there were no overblown expectations.

“NBC may have hoped that it would do better, but advertisers are getting the ratings they bought,” the  buyer says. “NBC did not sell us a false bill of goods.”

Still, NBC needs to get its content house in order, and quickly. “We have supported NBC, but they do need to come up with better content down the road or else eventually they will start to see our investments in their network decline,” says one buyer.

Another positive for the broadcast networks is that many advertisers are starting to believe that delayed viewing via DVRs is not as disruptive as originally thought. While media buyers won’t acknowledge that publicly, privately they say that unless an advertiser, say a retailer, needs next-day business, delayed viewing is not the ogre that it was originally thought to be.

I think I can speak for Bill too when I say the Leno tidbit doesn’t surprise us at all.   And I agree with it completely. NBC probably did hope for better, but it was always selling publicly (and apparently to advertisers as well) more realistic expectations.

Update: it turns out that when it comes to what I wrote below, Nielsen isn’t pulling a Jedi Mind Trick.

The last paragraph cited above is part of the propaganda coming straight from the TV networks.  Even Nielsen is getting into the game with Nielsen Media chief Susan Whiting saying things publicly like DVRs aren’t the devil everyone thought they were, and that it turns out they are more friend than foe.

While spin from networks (and since the networks are Nielsen’s biggest customers, Nielsen) doesn’t usually bother me, the spin here is aimed at perpetuating a myth that commercials aren’t skipped during DVR playback.  Though that’s not precisely what Ad Week is saying here, unintentionally or otherwise it still perpetuates that myth.

People With DVRs Skip Most Commercials During DVR Playback Most of the Time

According to every shred of data we’ve ever seen, most commercials  are skipped most of the time during DVR playback.  As more people get DVRs, the problem gets bigger, not smaller.  But the good news for the networks is that most people still don’t have DVRs.

Advertisers might have feared DVRs as disruptive, but the real fear of that lies with the networks (because that’s where the disruption of business models is actually occurring).   Mostly the advertisers just didn’t want to pay for people who skipped commercials.   They also really didn’t feel like paying for delayed viewing of the commercials and with the C3 commercial measurement (live commercial viewing + 3 Days of DVR Viewing) they are getting almost entirely what they asked for. They do not pay for people who fast-forward or skip over commercials within 3 days, and they do not pay for any of the commercial viewing beyond 3 days.

There’s a big difference between: “Nobody skips our ads” and “ad skipping isn’t hurting our campaigns”

The advertisers seem happy so long as they are not paying for people who didn’t view the ads, and there are more and more of those people every day — a real problem for the networks, but apparently not a big deal to advertising itself.  Though that may well be good news for the advertisers it’s not good news for the networks and don’t believe anything you read to the contrary!

I’m sure you you can find media buyers who would publicly go on record to say that DVRs aren’t hurting their ad campaigns.   But what you won’t find is any sane media buyer who would go on record to say that their ads aren’t getting skipped by DVR viewers.  Because other than in PR manufactured by the networks none of them exist.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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