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TV Networks Demand Audit of Nielsen’s COVID-Era Ratings

Networks are worried Nielsen may have counted homes that people vacated during the pandemic

TV networks are asking Nielsen to submit to an audit amid fears the ratings measurement company has been undercounting its audience over the past year.

“I am conveying to you in the strongest possible terms the VAB’s profound dissatisfaction and concerns with Nielsen’s handling of our industry’s months-long urging for right-sized remedies to shortfalls in the company’s COVID period TV usage and measurement data,” Sean Cunningham, president and CEO of the VAB, a trade organization that represents the TV networks to advertisers and agencies, wrote in a letter on Thursday to Nielsen.

“The VAB is calling on Nielsen to participate in an Independent Third Party Audit, to conduct an immediate audit with MRC auditor’s Ernst and Young, to provide a full disclosure of Nielsen’s audit on the ‘9,400 homes’ it intends to resume maintenance.”

Because of the pandemic, Nielsen has not sent its field agents to its participating homes, a routine procedure that helps to ensure the ratings that the company puts out every day are accurate. The TV networks are worried their ratings have been undercounted over the last year, arguing that Nielsen’s processes have been more faulty because of the lack of in-home check-ins and that¬†Nielsen counted homes that residents may have left during the pandemic.

Cunningham added that the networks believe Nielsen’s counts included more “zero-viewing TV homes” than normal, and that Nielsen was grappling with “a 20% loss of the panel” during the pandemic.

The timing of the letter is no coincidence:¬† Amid a long-term erosion of viewers, the 2020-21 TV season has seen an even bigger decrease in viewership. It’s also the time of the year when advertisers and their agencies set the bulk of their ad buying commitments for the next year in what is known as the Upfronts.

“Nielsen is committed to providing reliable and accurate data to the media industry. We received VAB’s letter and we are in the process of evaluating our next steps,” Nielsen said in a statement.

The VAB has asked for a response from Nielsen by April 19.