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What's Up With Impression-Based TV Buying?

Impression-Based TV Buying

Peanut butter & jelly. Tom & Jerry. Traditional media buyers & GRPs. You can’t imagine one without the other. GRPs, or gross rating points, have for decades been the common currency of linear television media buyers. The GRP is the metric that enables expert media buyers to construct efficient and effective TV buys for clients. GRPs have become so synonymous with media buying that it’s hard to imagine a world without them.

However, such a world is what we are now encountering. As streaming TV continues to boom, methods of measuring TV consumption across the board have been in need of an adjustment. Impression-based buying, enter stage left. In 2021, Nielsen, the leading TV measurement firm, announced its impending shift to an “impressions-first” system of measurement. The intent is to close the measurement gap created by the rise in streaming television and put all TV (linear & streaming) on an equal playing field as it relates to media buying, selling & measurement.


First, let’s provide a little explanation of just what a GRP is. At the most basic level, a gross rating point is a measurement of a percent of an audience tuned in to a certain television program at a given time. It is tracked and recorded by Nielsen in various ways (their methodologies are another blog for another time) and gives traditional media buyers the ability to piece together effective TV media plans for their clients based on potential audience exposure. Different times of the day (dayparts), networks and programs generate different GRP levels depending on the viewership – how many people are watching at any given time. A sports game at 7pm, a primetime slot, will generate a higher GRP measurement than a daytime soap opera at 1pm on a Tuesday. GRPs can also be measured across demographic audiences, giving media buyers the ability to further slice and dice their TV media buys across target audiences, such a Men 25-54, Adults 35-49, Women 18+, etc.

Once the planning process is all said and done, a TV media buy will deliver a total GRP figure across all the stations and programs purchased for the duration of the campaign. This is a cumulative look at how many total GRPs a client can expect to receive from a TV buy and gives media buyers a goal to work toward when negotiating with TV stations for an effective buy. Because traditional media like linear TV does not have the same trackability as newer digital media types, GRPs have been the traditional measurement for many decades.

So, What’s the Problem with GRPs?

As streaming video has risen in popularity and consumption, GRPs have quickly come under scrutiny. Linear TV no longer exists in a vacuum; long-form connected TV platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Paramount+ and many more continue to grow and offer essentially the same nature of content as linear TV. To media consumers, the video content they’re watching is “TV”, and it doesn’t matter to them whether they’re watching from a cable set-top-box, over the air from broadcast, streaming on an Amazon Firestick or through any of the growing number of delivery platforms. In fact, many viewers don’t even know which platform they’re using at any given moment. The content remains the same at heart – long-form, episodic, appointment viewing television.

For media buyers, the problem arises from the differences in measurement across traditional and streaming TV. As we’ve covered, linear TV has always utilized GRPs for measurement and tracking. Streaming TV, the new frontier in television media buying & consumption, uses impressions. Compared with a GRP, which measures a percentage of an audience, impressions measure the exact number of times an ad was served in a campaign. Impressions add an extra layer of measurability to media campaigns that GRPs do not provide. The measurement of impressions allows more advanced measurement and analysis regarding viewability and content quality, which is not an option with GRPs. By equipping media buyers with the ability to measure the quality of each impression served, better and more effective media buys can be constructed.

Impressions-First Buying

Up until recently, linear and streaming TV have been bought separately with different buying methods for each as described above. Under the status quo, linear TV and streaming TV are executed in separate buckets, although, as we mentioned above, consumers don’t differentiate between the two when consuming the content on each medium. Now, with Nielsen’s new impressions-first solution entitled Nielsen One, the future of TV media buying looks to be a little more simplified and consistent. By shifting away from GRPs and standardizing impressions, media buyers like ours at The Ward Group can approach the entire TV landscape, linear & streaming included, and execute media buys with perfect harmony across platforms, screens & devices. Measures of quality like viewability can be factored in, and media buyers will be able to be certain that their efforts are not being duplicated across audiences. Impressions-first buying will allow media buyers to finally approach TV the way consumers do: as one medium. The method of watching may change, but consumers don’t discriminate, and now, media buyers won’t have to either.

Let Our TV Media Stewards Guide the Way

Although it will be strange to see our old friend GRP leave the scene, The Ward Group cherishes the opportunity to adapt to impressions-first buying and drive even better levels of performance for our clients. Contact The Ward Group for all your TV buying needs today!

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