The source for the ad data is Kantar Media/CMAG. This commercial firm specializes in providing detailed, real-time tracking information to corporate and political clients. These tracking data represent the most comprehensive and systematic collection on the content and targeting of political advertisements. The data include two types of information. First, frequency information tells when and where ads aired. It contains precise and detailed information on the date, time, market, station, and television show of each airing.
Second, the data provide information about each ad’s content in the form of a video file for each unique creative or individual ad.
CMAG gathers such data by using a market-based tracking system, deploying “Ad Detectors” in each media market in the U.S. In addition to all local advertising activity, these detectors track advertisements on the major national networks, as well as national cable networks. The system’s software recognizes the electronic seams between programming and advertising and identifies the “digital fingerprints” of specific advertisements. When the system does not recognize the fingerprints of a particular spot, the advertisement is captured and downloaded. Thereafter, the system automatically recognizes and logs that particular commercial wherever and whenever it airs. Studies that examine advertisers’ “buy sheets” obtained from television stations and compare them with this CMAG data find that the company’s system is highly reliable in tracking the universe of ads aired.