Google, Nielsen set TV ad data venture

Aim is a better idea of who is watching

October 24, 2007|By New York Times News Service

Google, which dominates the market for advertising on the Internet, seems to be hoping to do the same thing on television.

The company is set to announce a partnership today with the Nielsen Co., the voice of authority in measuring television audiences, that will give advertisers a more vivid and accurate snapshot than ever before of how many people are viewing commercials on a second-by-second basis, and who those people are.

At a time when digital video recorders are proliferating, advertisers are thirsty for any data they can get about who is watching their ads, who is fast-forwarding past them and where it makes the most sense to invest.

Although the initiative between Google and Nielsen will start relatively small, with ratings gleaned from set-top boxes within a single cable operator's network, the companies say that their deal spans several years and that the relationship will grow.

"We want to bring all the advantages that we see in online advertising - like more accountability, a better sense of the audience, better tools to optimize a campaign - and bring them to television to make TV advertising more effective," said Michael Steib, director for television ads at Google.

Since May, Google has been selling ads on the 125 national satellite channels distributed by EchoStar Communications' DISH Network. Cable networks routinely provide distributors with a few minutes each hour for local commercials; Google is responsible for a portion of EchoStar's local time and creates an online auction market for it.

Google then analyzes the data from set-top boxes to determine exactly which ads were watched or skipped, with a second-by-second breakdown. With Nielsen's help, Google will begin to take that information and overlay sampling-based ratings, adding a demographic layer to the raw numbers that EchoStar provides.

"For 40 years, we've been placing advertising believing that commercials are getting the same reach that programs are getting. We now know that's not true," said Steven J. Farella, president and chief executive at TargetCast TCM, a media planning and buying agency in New York.

Nielsen recently introduced ratings for blocks of advertisements, and the numbers have shown that some viewers - particularly those with DVRs - turn the channel or fast-forward during commercial breaks. But those ratings take several weeks to process and do not give advertisers feedback about individual spots.

"When I'm buying for network or cable, I get an estimate of what the cost per million will be," said Jeff Wisot, the vice president for marketing at, a shopping Web site. "Then the ad runs, and that's it. I get very little data back."

But Google TV Ads - the service Google offers with EchoStar - presents more detailed data. Wisot, who has invested a third of his television advertising budget with Google, receives a report the next day listing the number of viewers who were watching an advertisement each second.

Google TV Ads is analogous to - and a complement to - the Google AdWords service that the company offers online. Both give advertisers the ability to buy, sell and deliver advertisements across many media properties (either satellite channels or Web sites) and to evaluate the reach of each ad, making adjustments as needed.

The information that Google and EchoStar glean from set-top boxes can tell advertisers whether a household's TV is on, but it cannot tell them who is watching it.

Demographic information about audiences is the specialty of Nielsen, which will contribute its intelligence about digital household viewership to Google TV Ads so media buyers have all the data.

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