As a currency for TV advertising, ratings leave far too much room for inaccuracies. It’s time to speed up the industry’s shift to impressions as the far superior alternative.

By Alaina Donnellon | SVP, Local Media, at Active International

Skinny jeans. Side parts. Avocado toast. TV ratings? That’s right – they’re all old news. At least, according to the latest generation of influencers and media buyers and sellers.

In January of 2022, Nielsen rolled out its “Impressions First Initiative” to support a move toward impressions-based buying, in conjunction with its integration of broadband-only (BBO) home data in the top 56 TV markets (BBO homes had already been incorporated into 138 smaller Nielsen markets). Some brands signed on right away and many station groups championed the shift, encouraging media buyers to ditch ratings in favor of impressions.

So, why are we still seeing ratings, or GRPs, on our broadcast and cable plans almost two years later? Change is hard. And just like many in the Oregon Trail generation are clinging to the familiarity of our skinnies, some brands are holding onto the comfort of using ratings to plan and purchase TV inventory.

But if ratings are still being accepted in today’s TV market, why bother making the effort to move to impressions? Because improved accuracy and consistency of measurement are key to the future of TV advertising.

Ratings Measurement Falls Short

While ratings, which represent a percentage of viewership, remain important for reporting and informing planned impression levels, they leave room for inaccuracies as a currency due to rounding. This results in slightly higher or lower reported viewership than exists and sometimes even “zero cells,” which falsely report no viewership for a program if the impressions don’t hit a certain threshold.

When brands rely on ratings, they’re not getting an accurate read on how well their campaigns are delivering. They may even mistakenly believe that their campaigns are falling short of goal, leading to unnecessary conflict with stations for Audience Deficiency Units (ADUs). And, with market share and so many dollars on the line, precise reporting is more important than ever.

Impressions Report Actual Viewership

By measuring the actual viewers, calculations using impressions make it easier to identify trends when negotiating brand campaigns and reporting results.

Impressions are also the standard measurement for digital media, including CTV and OTT, which continue to grow and become more integrated with linear TV as brands focus on reaching their consumers wherever they may access their favorite shows.

Consistency of measurement is just as important as data accuracy in today’s evolving media landscape, not just to identify trends within the TV marketplace, but to enable brands to plan and evaluate their multimedia campaigns using consistent benchmarks.

While the industry is heading in the right direction with more brands signing on to transact on impressions, it’s been a slow transition. Encouraging our remaining brand partners to move away from ratings should be a key focus heading into 2024 — maybe over a breakfast of avocado toast.