Responsive Advertising Blog

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Inforgrpahic - TV Landscape

Despite our real-time world, the tradition of quarterly measurement persists

Last Thursday, thousands of households sharpened their pencils and got out their diaries. Just as they have since 1954, a representative sample of American viewers began meticulously documenting their television habits.

It signals just one thing: sweeps.

Even in a decidedly digital world, this analog tradition from Nielsen persists. Sophisticated digital measurement now complements the household-by-household feedback, but the spectacle of a quarterly measurement system remains.

For four weeks, four times each year, television networks pull out all the stops to impress audiences and garner top ratings. For viewers, it’s a bonanza of new episodes, special plots, high-profile guest stars, and clever crossovers between shows. (Remember Fonzie waterskiing over the shark? The miniseries marathons? Ross blurting out the wrong name at his wedding?)

But in our real-time world, marketers now ask whether quarterly rating periods remain relevant.

The short answer is yes ... and, well, no.

In the “yes” category: Sweeps still provide valuable insights around audience demographics and Americans’ viewing preferences. Nielsen issues more than two million paper diaries to U.S. households, and this qualitative feedback supplements their ongoing, tech-driven measurements.

For advertisers who plan and buy media on an annual basis, quarterly data clearly documents audience and programming trends.

Smaller, local markets see the most impact from sweeps. In these areas, market size makes it cost prohibitive to compile actual audience data more frequently than once a quarter. Networks apply sweeps data to calculate local advertising rates.

In the “no” category: National advertising rates, on the other hand, are set more frequently and are usually based on year-round data. So while many broadcasters still allocate premium programming during sweeps, rates are less reliant on ratings during these four-week measurement periods.

More importantly, other tools exist for broadcast tracking. Attribution bureaus like comScore leverage their own platforms and proprietary metrics to measure consumer behaviors; sweeps data is no longer the only source available.

Likewise, technologies such as advanced TV have changed viewing options dramatically. Now, instead of saving high-profile programming or the launch of new shows for sweeps, content providers release programming year round. Innovators like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon have transformed the television landscape into a much more competitive environment where “saving up” for sweeps no longer makes sense.

From quarterly books to instant insights

Before the Internet, the arrival of the sweeps book (yes, literally a book) brought excitement to the media planning department. Today, there’s no need to wait; new data can be had almost daily, from overnight impressions to conversion activity.

The prevalence of these insights means media buyers can exercise almost surgical precision with broadcast ad placements. There’s also no need to allocate an entire year’s budget in a single, annual media buy. Savvy planners can buy monthly and optimize weekly, using a variety of data sources to fine-tune and improve advertising ROI.

Maximize your media buy. At Marketing Architects, data informs every aspect of our approach to improve your results and drives down costs. Contact us to find out how.


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Catherine Dettloff

By Catherine Dettloff

Vice President, Media Buying Services

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