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More Distrust in TV Ratings and an Increased Need for Unified Measurement

Nielsen recently announced that they are taking an accreditation hiatus from the Media Ratings Council. It was uncertain whether the MRC would suspend their accreditation; however, last week they announced that they did in fact decide to suspend accreditation for both Nielsen’s National and local ratings services. This announcement comes after the MRC determined  Nielsen likely undercounted some pandemic TV audiences in February of this year.  Nielsen has addressed the concern over the underreporting and has said that problems with its panel are being handled.  Many of the problems have been due to underreporting households during the pandemic and Nielsen pausing in-home maintenance visits.

For anyone not familiar with the history of the MRC, a U.S. Congressional Committee pushed to regulate audience research related to the TV and Radio industries in the early 1960s. After extensive investigations and hearings, the committee determined that industry self-regulation, including independent audits of rating services, was preferable to government intervention.  The Council was put in place to improve the quality of audience measurement by rating services and to provide a better understanding of the applications (and limitations) of rating information.  They also work to determine if there are any unethical or flawed measurement being reported through auditing with independent CPA firms, to ultimately protect the advertisers and buyers.

The suspended accreditation is unlikely to impact the buying ecosystem in the short run.  Stations will still get their ratings and buyers will be able to do their jobs just the same.  What it does do though, is create more mistrust towards Nielsen’s already monopolizing measurement system.  NBCUniversal announced last week that they are looking at alternate forms of measurement due to their dissatisfaction with Nielsen.  There are 50 or so measurement partners being RFP’d for the job and the decision will be made in a few weeks. Nielsen will be submitting a proposal amongst the other partners.

Stations and buyers have relied on Nielsen data since people began putting TVs in their homes.  The measurement has evolved since the days of one TV per household and a paper diary of each household member filling in their viewing patterns.  Although it’s better, it’s still not enough to keep up with the TV landscape that is literally changing daily – and the industry is feeling that.  Household measurement just isn’t reliable anymore.  Though the number of TVs per household is declining, it’s still roughly 2.5 per household.  This is largely due the increased ownership of personal devices, where a large portion of streaming is occurring.  And that right there is the problem with buying on a CPP using ratings data.  It’s not ‘personal’.  People are multitasking while the news is on, cooking dinner, helping with homework and scrolling through their Facebook feed.  Buying on a CPM in streaming news content is much more accurate in reaching your target audience and understanding their engagement level of that content.

Video fragmentation is not a new problem, nor is it going away.  We’ve always accounted for that 20% or so that may not see the video due to multitasking and adjust frequencies accordingly.  Having more and more of these walled gardens has made it increasingly difficult to truly measure reach and frequency for your video campaigns.  Different forms of measurement across various TV networks, streaming services, smart TV manufacturers and other OTT platforms is not ideal, and the industry needed to have something in place – yesterday. 

We need unified ratings so we can look at an impression and compare it to another impression.  Nielsen is working on a product called Nielsen One that is supposed to be a single cross-media currency, to allow buyers and sellers a seamless solution to look at linear and digital platforms.  It will be interesting to see how that rolls out and what other players come to the table with the same solution. If the industry is going to rely on an MRC accredited reporting, that could be years.  This shakeup will help open more eyes and put the pressure on the industry to advance to a more holistic TV buying approach.

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