In July 2021, after earlier claims of undercounting TV audiences, measurement giant Nielsen initially requested a formal hiatus in the Media Rating Council’s (MRC) accreditation process. The MRC declined that request and confirmed they will no longer accredit Nielsen’s national or local measurement ratings, effective later this month.
A quick crash course on the MRC: It is a non-profit industry association whose goal is to ensure media measurement services are valid, reliable and effective. Measurement services desiring MRC accreditation are required to disclose to their customers all methodological aspects of their service and, importantly, comply with the MRC Minimum Standards for Media Rating Research and guidelines. All verified measurement providers must submit to MRC-designed audits to authenticate and illuminate their procedures.
This decision to discredit Nielsen is significant, but not completely shocking given the mounting pressure from the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) to the MRC to suspend Nielsen’s accreditation, essentially questioning their validity as the measurement standard. The MRC has cited deep-rooted ongoing performance issues that have threatened accreditation of Nielsen’s National Television Service as additional cause for concern. Widespread accusations of considerable underreporting in 2020 during the pandemic seem to have been the breaking point.
To the networks represented by the VAB, this signals a potential long overdue change. Sean Cunningham, president and CEO of the VAB, said, “What cannot be evaded or dodged is the level of all-industry intervention coming to Nielsen with a mandate of change-or-die transparency needed for going forward with any real credibility. The VAB will be pursuing the case for radical Nielsen change with more voracity than ever.”
While Nielsen has expressed their disappointment with the decision, they are directly addressing the board’s concerns as valid and plan to quickly work with the MRC to regain accreditation through the below:
- Panel size and health: Added 2,500 homes since March 2021 with a target of 41,600 homes by Q1 2022 through in-home visits due to increasing vaccination rates.
- Reporting: Placed new policies ensuring communication is faster distributed to their partners and the MRC. These added guidelines should allow a higher quality control to check both data input and output to better assess the impact of any changes.
- Broadband only: Include broadband TV households within local measurement. To ensure added universe is incorporated responsibly into their local measurement, Nielsen will work with the MRC to refine and audit audience size changes.
As Nielsen goes into review with the MRC to regain credibility, the door is open for new video measurement partners eager to steal the ratings crown or work directly with major broadcast networks. NBCUniversal has already outlined their push for a better measurement partner and attribution to measurement, driven primarily through ex-Nielsen executive Kelly Abcarian. They are currently reviewing several different proposals for what they call a proper evaluation of broadcast consumption. This early adoption network stance may have others following a similar suit within individual partners or, more likely, banding together to create a new unified point of measurement truth.
At Empower, Planning is Art & Science
While there is obvious concern around the validity of Nielsen’s National Television Service, it’s important to remember that planning and buying are equal parts art & science.
When a foundational piece of our science comes into question, attention is warranted. At the same time, we still consider Nielsen and MRI the best resources at the moment and will continue utilizing their measurement as a source of performance and directional assessment of consumer behavior. When Nielsen is leveraged, we tend to use it as a source for conservative estimating for future ratings/impressions for our clients. For local, in particular, the news of this loss of accreditation, combined with the Broadband-Only (BBO) rollout, has our experienced and expert buying team extra cautious when placing future campaigns.
Even with the 6% underreporting for both national and local, this data can still be used directionally knowing the discrepancy applied to ratings have been consistently applied across all buys, regardless of agency or brand category. Similar to other tools within the planning industry, Nielsen data still helps identify historical trends through a consistent form of measurement. Empower has addressed this with our clients, knowing the importance of quantifying their own unique bases and benchmarks for performance evaluation. Nielsen data and movement in trends still allows for correlation analysis with a brand’s business KPIs. It isn’t as much about the actual number but rather the trends and differences when compared to a consistent index of movement.
Moving Forward, the Door is Open for Possibility
Nielsen has always been our best option but not THE only option – and we have always used it as a strong directional tool. While this newest development was disappointing, the nature of the claims, as well as the active stance of Nielsen, we’re confident this all can be addressed and still serve as an immediate resource for the art and science we put into planning.
And, we are continuing to watch, and in some cases, test, the up and comers in this space. Nielsen’s dethroning brings a giant opportunity for another company to step up with a better solution and if credible, will have support across Empower and other agencies alike.
We understand how critical the validation of purchased buys are for both our network partners, but most importantly our clients.