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Discovery’s David Zaslav Wants Industry to Leave Nielsen ‘in the Dust’

CEO doesn’t have ”a lot of hope“ for TV ratings company

David Zaslav ramped up his ire for TV ratings giant Nielsen during a Tuesday conference call tied to Discovery’s second-quarter earnings.

The future calls for “better data” than the long-standing measurement currency company offers, Zaslav said.

“Unfortunately, Nielsen is a whiff. And it’s just massively disappointing that Nielsen can’t get its act together,” the Discovery president and CEO said. “And the answer is, we have lost money. Everyone has lost money. You’re dealing with a very antiquated delivery system. We’ve all learned how to get along with it. We do it by augmenting with our own data. But recently, they’ve just been wrong. It’s one thing if you have an antiquated system and then you augment it. But the antiquated system itself is unreliable.”

“And so, as an industry, we have to figure out how to deal with it. We’re competing with the likes of Google and Facebook where they have the best data, the cleanest data,” he continued. “You compare that with this antiquated system, so we continue to work on our own. I don’t have a lot of hope for Nielsen. Somehow, as an industry, we’re just going to have to work our way out of it, from a technology perspective, and leave them in the dust.”

That’s about all Zaslav had a right to be mad about this morning.

Discovery reported a solid Q2, beating analyst expectations at both the top and bottom lines. The company finished the quarter with 17 million paid direct-to-consumer subscribers, the bulk of which come from Discovery+. To-date, the all-in tally is 18 million.

Nielsen did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on Zaslav’s remarks Tuesday.

Zaslav has been vocal about the issues he sees with Nielsen — especially during COVID, when the ratings currency company was found to have undercounted viewership.

In May, during a conversation at MoffetNathanson’s annual media and communications summit, Zaslav blasted Nielsen’s “antiquated system of measurement,” arguing that its ratings were inaccurate even before the coronavirus pandemic created additional challenges.

“It’s really unfortunate. We thought that maybe they were gonna get their act together, and then we found out that they think they undercounted for a year,” Zaslav said. “Now how do we get that money back?”

Nielsen was put on notice July 21, when the Video Advertising Bureau — the industry group representing virtually all of the major TV networks — asked the Media Ratings Council (MRC) to suspend the TV ratings company’s accreditation.

The VAB believes Nielsen ratings include “gross inaccuracies” and “flawed measurement.” Specifically, the group says Nielsen numbers undercount and under-represent Black and Hispanic households, as well as the “younger adult segment.”

Recently, the MRC found in an audit that Nielsen undercounted viewers during the coronavirus pandemic. The audit revealed that Nielsen’s total usage of television by adults 18-49 — the demographic a majority of ad prices are based on — was understated by 2-6% during February, which was the timeframe the MRC used to conduct the audit. Additionally, the MRC believes that “persons using television” among that same age group was down by 1-5%.

“We are fully committed to returning to pre-COVID operations and are working closely with and through the MRC to address any outstanding issues and requests and are committed to their process concerning accreditation,” a Nielsen spokesperson told TheWrap on July 21.