This fall, Nielsen will start revealing the ratings not just of the hit TV shows, but of the ads that appear on them. That is, they'll parse the difference between a show's rating and the rating that its commercials got. At first, it won't mean much -- networks are so freaked out, Nielsen will only provide an average rating for, say, all commercials on "Desperate Housewives" without breaking it down minute by minute. But advertisers already know that the first commercial "pods" (the group of ads between the actual show) do better than the ads appearing toward the end -- especially the ones after the show is over and before the next one begins. Advertisers are already moaning it isn't enough and ultimately they'll get second by second ratings so they can see exactly who is watching what ads.
That's gonna rock the world of TV and send even more money flowing onto the Internet, where advertisers often pay only when people click on their ads and pay attention to what they're selling. Why? Because a steadily growing number of TV viewers almost NEVER watch ads. Thanks to Tivo and DVRs and VCRs and Slingbox and video on demand and iTunes downloads of the latest episode of "Lost" and on and on -- quite simply, for a growing number of viewers like me, commercials are something we zip past without even thinking. Maybe I'll go back to watch a movie trailer or something that catches my eye. That happens maybe once a week -- and I watch a LOT of TV. Nowadays, I find it irritating to watch "live" TV -- I simply won't do it except for something like the World Cup or some other "live" event. So sports programming and maybe the "American Idol" finale will flourish. But 95% of TV will suffer. People may love their shows; but they don't love their ads and increasingly there is no reason for them to watch the darn things.