Digital Transformation Media Measurement Future of TV

Under pressure, Nielsen revamps commercial ratings system


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

November 22, 2021 | 4 min read

Nielsen today unveiled a new framework for commercial TV ratings. The company said it will shift away from its C3 currency and overhaul its approach to crediting in order to offer more granular insights into which viewers see which adverts.

Back of two people's heads as they watch TV

Nielsen is honing its single ad-level audience measurement capabilities

Following a saga of recent events that saw Nielsen stripped of its accreditation by the Media Rating Council – after it was accused of systematically underreporting viewership data during the pandemic – the TV ratings and measurement company is back with an overhauled commercial ratings system.

The company today announced that in 2022 it will roll out a new system for establishing commercial ratings. Its existing commercial ratings currency, C3, offers insight into the average of all commercial minutes within a given television program. Under the new framework, dubbed Individual Commercial Metrics, Nielsen aims to provide advertisers with a more granular view into which viewers consumed which ads. Moving forward, audience estimates will be based on individual ads instead of commercial minutes.

In order to achieve these ends, Nielsen will revamp its approach to crediting – or pinpointing what publisher hosted what ad and what specific viewers saw that ad. A central part of this effort will be revitalizing its approach to identifying and collecting watermarks – audio codes inserted into an ad that allow Nielsen to match a specific ad run at a specific time with the viewer(s) who saw the ad. With the help of New York-based marketing logistics firm Extreme Reach, Nielsen will be able to detect watermarks more frequently within a given minute. As such, the company hopes to be able to credit viewership for individual ads and shorter periods of time during a specific program. Furthermore, Nielsen is integrating Gracenote Content Signatures, which aim to allow granular viewer crediting for moments in which watermarks are not present.

“Nielsen has been working on this technology enhancement for well over a year. This is the culmination of innovation and meticulous testing to ensure that we can meet the industry’s changing needs,” the company’s senior vice-president of product management Kim Gilberti tells The Drum. “Over time, we anticipate that buyers and sellers will begin to transact against the individual commercial metrics of a given ad, rather than maintain the current construct of looking at the average of all minutes within a program. This also supports more comparable measurement across platforms, both linear and digital.”

The move is part of Nielsen’s ongoing efforts to respond to widespread demand for more universal, cross-channel measurement currencies – especially in the evolving world of connected television. Amid a challenging, fragmented landscape, a number of US TV networks have taken it upon themselves to develop new approaches to audience measurement. NBCUniversal in August put out an RFP seeking innovative approaches to measurement. WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS and others have also sought proposals for new frameworks.

Nielsen’s answer to the unrest is its Nielsen One framework, which is still in development. “The initial stage of this exciting evolution allows Nielsen to gather the data required for the launch of Nielsen One in late 2022. We’re excited about what this could bring to the marketplace in the future,” says Gilberti, who in May told The Drum that Nielsen One aims to offer a more “apples to apples” solution for cross-channel ad measurement.

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the company’s recent rebrand.

For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.

Digital Transformation Media Measurement Future of TV

More from Digital Transformation

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +