Spot television time buying can be a sexy business.  The buyer’s job is a complicated mix of very different tasks:

  • Forecasting audience delivery of television programs based on Nielsen data
  • Negotiating the price to be paid for ads placed in those programs, and
  • Stewardship, following the buy through its life as new ratings data arrives, station schedules change and real life takes over.

To do the job well, they must be prepared to sweat the details, continually revisiting schedules as new information comes in.

Like economists and stock brokers, the savvy buyer knows all too well that past history may not provide a reliable indication of future performance.  Fortunately, they do have the means to do something about it.  New audience research arrives in the metered market overnights and monthly sweeps reports, providing critical intelligence required to revisit their estimates and make mid-course corrections, hopefully timed to keep the buy on track before the campaign is over.  In the end, the post analysis confirms or denies the accuracy of their forecasts.  If they met the goal, that’s great.  If not, it’s not uncommon to blame the messenger, good ole Nielsen Media Research.

Nielsen is a good target for the agencies.  Of course, as a monopoly supplier, you’d expect some tough talk about the inadequacies of the 900 pound ratings gorilla.  But the criticism is often leveled at the statistics behind the ratings.  Few buyers really understand the technical details, simply locking onto “standard error” statistics that represent the apparent accuracy of reported estimates.  Think of it as a parallel to the pollster’s qualification – our predictions are accurate plus or minus X percent…  In effect, you might look at Standard Errors as a way of conveying how much bounce or variability we can expect from report to report as the ratings are released.

Differences between the buyers’ estimates and the final reported results reflect four factors:

  1. The statistical reliability of the ratings themselves
  2. Real changes in viewing behavior over time (apart from statistical issues)
  3. The buyers’ estimating capability (how good they are at estimating)
  4. Stewardship, the process of maintaining buys throughout their lives.

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