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Turner Discloses Tens Of Thousands Of Online Viewers Being Added To Its TV Ratings

June 14, 2011

By Joe Mandese

"We've seen over 50 individual telecasts" get the boost from people who are watching those shows online," CNN Senior Vice President-Ad Sales Research Gregg Liebman said, referring to the data from the first four weeks of Nielsen's new "Extended Screen" research measuring how people watch TV shows available online.

Turner currently is the only company subscribing to the new data, which enables it to add the online viewing to the national TV ratings -- Nielsen's so-called C3 ratings -- that are used as the basis of its ad deals with advertisers and agencies.

"In some cases, we are seeing a lift of 10,000 viewers," Liebman disclosed during one of the opening ARF panels focusing on how "traditional" media companies were being impacted by digital media distribution options. Liebman said Turner programming, and its advertisers' ads, are now available for online viewing -- what the TV industry has dubbed "TV Everywhere" -- in about 70 million U.S. households.

Liebman's boss, Jack Wakshlag, the chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting, said Turner has been able to take advantage of the incremental ratings because it is subscribing to Nielsen's new Extended Screen reports, but also because it invested in certain engineering costs that made it feasible to track the online viewing of its programming -- something he said other cable and broadcast networks have been loath to do. During a brief encounter between sessions at the ARF conference CBS research chief Dave Poltrack more or less pooh-poohed Wakshlag's comments that the move was significant enough to capitalize on -- for now.

While tens of thousands of viewers may not be significant enough now for other networks to justify the additional costs of the research, Wakshlag noted that they will grow over time, and that Turner will reap the benefits of being a first-mover in the marketplace.

One reason why the ratings impact may not be significant for other networks currently is that in order to qualify for inclusion in the C3 ratings, Nielsen currently requires networks to air the exact same commercials -- and commercial loads -- in their online streaming as they do in their conventional TV distribution for the first three days of the telecasts. Wakshlag said Turner has been doing this, but that after the first three days, it inserts new ads into the online streaming versions of the telecasts that are unique to online viewers.

While the online and TV industries debate how many ads online viewers are willing to sit through to watch video programming online, Turner executives maintain there is virtually no difference in the tolerance of online viewers to watch conventional TV program with the same commercial loads they would experience on television. During a presentation in the afternoon session of the ARF conference, another Turner research executive, Stacey Lynn Schulman, presented research supporting that conclusion.

"I don't understand why other people aren't doing this," Wakshlag said. "It seems like a no-brainer."

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