Nielsen is having a bit of a tiff lately with ad agencies over its provision of television ratings. While the majority of ad agency execs want commercials rated, not the shows they air within, Nielsen claims they have already offered those ratings to agencies. Agencies have countered saying those ratings, 60-second unit measurements, do not adequately serve what's really needed, the measurement of actual commercial ratings. The way the 60-second unit ratings are taken do not align exactly with when commercials actually air. That is the sticky point agencies have with this offer from Nielsen.
This new method of commercial measurement, if it sees the light of day, could foster some radically different methods of television commercialization. If it's commercials that are measured and not the containing programs, all of the promotion that goes into hyping a television show to viewers in order to achieve high ratings could now go towards hyping commercials to viewers instead. Imagine NBC, faced with radically lower ratings because of ad-skippage, bathroom breaks, etc. The network would have to insure a high level of commercial viewership to maintain its ad rates. Conceivably, NBC would have to do whatever it could to make viewers watch commercials.
In theory, NBC would have to offer incentives to viewers to watch commercials. These incentives could be monetary in nature or come in other forms. Aside from possible Nielsen ratings that would "count" commercial viewership, embedded within the commercials (or before or after a commercial break) would be some sort of code or proof mechanism for the viewer to redeem. This would be necessary, not to prove viewership (although it could serve as a form of comparison to Nielsen ratings) because Nielsen would provide that proof with its new commercial ratings. It would be needed simply to get viewers to watch so high commercial ratings would be achieved for the network, then reported back by Nielsen, then used by networks as a basis from which to set rates for advertisers.
This could dramatically alter the definition of a commercial. While consumers might be swayed financially into watching a commercial, after a time, if commercials remain as boring as they currently are, no amount of money will get consumers to watch when they can so easily skip commercials. Commercials will have to take on elements of what I think is one of the better forms of promotion, the movie/TV trailer. Trailers, whether for good programming or bad, always seem to create the sense that you absolutely positively have to watch the movie/show being promoted. Does any current commercial today come close to that? Yes, promoting content is very different than promoting and ad but we're talking theory here.
That's just one idea. There could be many additional means to make commercials a "must watch" activity. A series of commercials could take on the form of a soap opera or serial drama where viewers would have to watch from day to day/week to week to either follow the story line or to receive other "incentives" for financial redemption. In this sense, commercials become a form of the programming.
In essence, this new economic model would compel networks to pay (or compel in some other very powerful way) viewers to watch commercials so that they can continue to sustain their current ad supported business model. Extrapolating this further, the current model is flipped on its head. Advertisers become producers and the programming becomes the commercial.