Definition of CUME Impressions vs Average Impressions & How to Calculate for TV & Radio Advertising Ads


One of the most clever sales maneuvers used by TV and radio stations is to provide people “CUME” impressions, CUME listenership, CUME viewership, or CUME exposures. The word “CUME” is short for cumulative. So if a TV or radio station sends you any of the catch-phrases above, they are basically giving you their total viewership for a certain timeframe or length of time.

For example, let’s say you are thinking of buying a daytime rotator on the Discovery Channel from a cable company in Miami, FL. Since you are a fairly well-informed and media-savvy business executive, you know that buying “cable spots” is worthless. You proceed to tell the salesperson that you want to know how many impressions the cable company is delivering on the Discovery Channel during that timeframe. The cable company proceeds to give you an official report that tells you that their viewership (impressions) is 100,000 during that time period. They also tell you that they could sell you 50 commercials X $150.00 each for a total of $7,500.00. You decide to do a little number-crunching yourself and multiply 100,000 impressions X 50 commercials, for a total of 5 million impressions. You’re starting to think, “Wow, this is a good deal! Five million impressions for $7,500 comes out to $1.50 CPM (cost per thousand). Feeling pretty proud of yourself that you really negotiated a great deal, you tell the TV advertising salesperson, “I will take it.”

If you have not figured it out yet, the person in the analogy just got taken to the cleaners.

Why? Since he did not explicitly ask for and demand to see the “average impressions.” As we have written about constantly over the years, the only type of impressions that matter are average impressions. Average impressions are calculated by Nielsen and Arbitron; they are not calculated by the station. The Nielsen and Arbitron average impression reports tell you the average amount of people who will see or hear your commercial each time it airs during a specific time period.

In the story above, the salesperson provided the business executive with the “CUME impressions-viewership” for the entire time period. TV and radio advertising salespeople are not legally bound to provide you with average impressions; they are not legally bound to provide you with anything.

Sure, a long-term salesperson probably knows what you were really asking for, but since you told him or her, “I want to see the impressions” for the time-period, not the “average impressions,” he or she can sleep well at night knowing that he or she gave you exactly what you asked for.

In the story above, the business executive was probably only receiving 9,000-10,000 average impressions per commercial, which would come out to about a $15 CPM (cost per thousand). $15 CPM is about the national average for local cable TV advertising rates. It is a complete rip-off, but many small businesses pay much, much more than that.

When buying remnant radio commercials, national radio advertising, or local television advertising, please make sure that you know what you are buying. Don’t even consider data labeled with phrases like household counts, viewership, impressions (by itself), and/or exposures.

If the company you are working with does not (or will not), provide you with the “average impressions,” go find a reputable agency to work with that will give you the correct data (without your having to ask for it).

If you have questions about anything else regarding TV and radio advertising, feel free to give us a call.

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