Nielsen just pulled its own card and placed itself in national-TV ratings accreditation purgatory with the Media Rating Council (MRC).
“Yesterday, Nielsen proactively initiated the accreditation hiatus process for our National TV ratings service with the Media Rating Council (MRC),” the company said via a spokesperson. “While we remain confident in the integrity of our data and measurement, and fully support the audit process, we believe that moving to a hiatus allows us to concentrate our audit-related efforts on continuing to address panel concerns alongside the transformation of our National TV product and development of Nielsen ONE.”
Last month, the Video Advertising Bureau — the industry group representing virtually all of the major TV networks — asked the Media Ratings Council to suspend the TV ratings company’s accreditation.
Nielsen has come under fire recently over its measurement capabilities and the company was found to have undercounted viewers during the pandemic. Nielsen’s total usage of television by adults 18-49 — the demographic a majority of ad prices are based on — was understated by 2% to 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 understated by 1% to 5%.
Nielsen’s statement continued: “As we previously announced in November 2020, we are transforming our National TV products through the integration of big data sources and have committed to delivering impact data beginning in January 2022. We are also strengthening our CTV and streaming offerings as we prepare to launch a single, deduplicated cross-media measurement solution. We are committed to delivering these capabilities to meet our clients’ needs.
“As it relates to the panels, which continue to be a core element of our measurement, we remain focused on recovering our panels for the future. Since March, we’ve been working diligently to get our panel back up to full strength by increasing panel size, improving demographic representation and addressing panel maintenance. We’re applying key learnings from the last 18 months and are actively making adjustments to our field operations that will inform our processes as we prepare for possible impact from surging COVID-19 variants, while also diligently ensuring the health and safety of our panel homes and people.”
The company’s statement concluded: “We believe hiatus is the best course of action at this time and will allow us to focus on innovating our core products, continuing to deliver data that the industry can rely on and ultimately creating a better media future for the entire industry.”
An accreditation suspension wouldn’t render Nielsen ratings worthless or automatically replace the longstanding industry leader with an alternative — it’s still hard to even identify a standout second fiddle — and news outlets like TheWrap would continue to report on Nielsen’s findings.
But the VAB’s president and CEO Sean Cunningham previously told TheWrap in an interview that an accreditation suspension would add “greater context to the buyer/seller dialog.” Media buyers could no longer automatically implement a single-digit percentage discount if everyone agreed Nielsen understated viewership by a few points.
Punishing Nielsen should also light a fire under the company to get things right. In its own study adjacent to the annual MRC audit, the VAB found that recent Nielsen numbers “significantly” undercounted viewership among certain demographics — like Blacks, Hispanics and younger adults — especially during the pandemic.
Responding to Nielsen’s decision on Thursday, Cunningham said: “After months of Nielsen’s very public insistence that there nothing wrong with their ratings data, but now facing a slam-dunk VAB case for accreditation suspension, Nielsen has essentially announced ‘you can’t fire me, I quit’ just hours before the MRC suspension vote process is activated. 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.”