Updated: Nielsen Working With 'Key Players' On New Currency, Poised To Lose Accreditation For Current One

This story was updated from an earlier version to include comments made by Nielsen CEO Mitch Barns refuting this report.

Nielsen is operating behind the scenes with “key players in the marketing industry” to alter the industry’s currency, CEO Mitch Barns said in response to an analyst’s question during the company’s Analyst Day in New York City this morning.

Following an opening presentation on the company’s revenue growth outlook, including an aggressive diversification into the marketing cloud sector, Barns said Nielsen would remain first and foremost “a measurement company. Our core assets are data.”

In response to a question from Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser, Barns emphasized that despite its focus on technology and enterprise services, its core focus will continue to be on media and marketing currencies.

While that was clear, what wasn’t clear is exactly what that currency will be going forward.

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“You’re not expecting any change in currency in the market buyers and sellers will use,” Wieser asked during a Q&A session.

No, not yet,” Barns said, adding, “obviously that process is well underway.”

He added that the process was “with key players in the marketing industry” and that Nielsen has been “convening them as a group.”

He did not disclose the nature of those behind-the-scenes discussions, or a timeline for an outcome, but said, “That continues to move forward. There’s no assumption for that.”

Interestingly, those conversations are going on just as Nielsen is poised to make the most fundamental shift in its core currency -- national TV ratings -- since it introduced people meters in 1987. That methodological shift, which will effectively begin modeling a large portion of TV ratings instead of actually measuring them, is set to change on Dec. 28th and will be the new currency for the national TV advertising marketplace for the foreseeable future.

What’s unclear, is whether those ratings will be accredited by the industry.

The national TV committee of industry ratings watchdog Media Rating Council has been meeting to discuss whether it will accredit the new method, but people familiar with those discussions say it is unlikely a decision will be made by the time Nielsen makes the shift on Dec. 28.

“The committee didn’t vote on accreditation or not, and in fact there are further meetings on the subject later in December,” confirmed MRC CEO and Executive Director George Ivie.

He did not elaborate, but if Nielsen does not receive accreditation it means it will be the first time its national TV ratings are un-accredited since the MRC began auditing them in the 1960s, stemming from Congressional hearings on the TV ratings business and a consent decree with the Justice Department.

“Hence, the industry will seek to function without MRC accredited ratings, as Congress essentially mandated after the Harris a Hearings in 1963,” said one Nielsen client.

During a subsequent presentation, Nielsen executive Megan Clarken unveiled a first look at Nielsen's new "total content ratings," showing an example of an actual anonymous network's integrated audience ratings across linear TV and all digital platforms its content was distributed across. 

"For the first time they’re getting measurement of their digital programming, apples to apples... across everything," she said.

In response to an analyst's question during the Q&A that followed, Nielsen executive Steve Hasker confirmed Nielsen has been working behind the scenes with some clients on vetting a new, total audience currency.

"The conversation with the industry has stated," he said. "We are excited about the engagement we've gotten."

Hasker characterized that future currency as more of a "matrix" than a single number, that different clients would use at different times for different use cases. He said clients in that future currency scenario would "oscillate" between "simple metrics" and much more "complex" arrays of data.

At the end of Nielsen’s Analyst Day presentation, CEO Barns made comments refuting this report:

"Our core, national television ratings, remain fully accredited, we are right now in the process of increasing panel sizes, which is something we’ve talked a lot about as the year goes on.

“We’ve been very open, engaged, and collaborative with the MRC throughout the process and meetings will continue this month. But the process of accreditation (and if something were to ever decide to not be accredited) is a very involved, very elaborative process with a number of steps.

“Nothing ever changes overnight in this accreditation process, and I think rightfully so. It just shows the thoroughness of the approach of the MRC and the clients that are engaged through the organization of the MRC. it really validates the thoroughness.

“We stand behind the national panel expansion because it’s about increasing the quality, it’s about making sure that measurement capabilities stays current with everything that’s happening in the marketplace with media fragmentation. You have to increase panel size and increase the ability to leverage that data in an increasingly fragmented world.  We’re confident that it's going to be well received by the marketplace as it continues to roll out.

“There is a separate process that will also unfold in 2016, related to total audience measurement - total ad ratings, total content ratings, separate accreditation processes and again we remain fully engaged with the MRC, fully open, transparent working with all the clients who are involved in that organization."

13 comments about "Updated: Nielsen Working With 'Key Players' On New Currency, Poised To Lose Accreditation For Current One".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 11, 2015 at 10:12 a.m.

    While being accredited is obviously very important and the MRC has done a most creditable job on this score through the years, we should note that even if a research design and its execution is "accredited" this does not mean that it's ultimate findings are necessarily accurate as most people understand the term. Over the years many TV and radio measurement methodologies have been employed and the surveys using them accredited---personal diaries, household diaries, set meters plus household diaries, etc.---yet in many cases these have been found wanting as regards accuracy when newer, more sophisticated methods were introduced to replace them.

    I appreciate Nielsen's business problems in expanding the scope of its audience measurements to cover non-linear venues, but the fact that this will involve the use, in part of ascribed or "estimated" data is bothering a lot of people. I hope that some sort of validation procedure is in the works to demonstrate that the "estimating" aspect of this design actually gives us credible answers and, if not, what the biases are.

    As for the possibility of a "new currency", replacing "viewing", I'm at a loss as to what this might be. Hopefully, we aren't thinking about content-on-screen as a substitute for viewing. The two aren't at all the same thing----especially across venues, but also within them.

  2. Henry Blaufox from DragonSearch replied, December 11, 2015 at 10:55 a.m.

    Hello again Ed,

    In a way this continues on our shared comments under the Videology interview in Real Time Daily Deecember 10. As mentioned then, and again here - this sort of shift, being driven by changes in technology and consumer behavior (viewing habits), is a work in progress. It will not happen in one pass, will be done incrementally, and subject to change based on results against what was expected as observed by Nielsen and other firms in the industry.

    I'd say look for this to go from "estimates" driven by technology such as analytics to actual counts as large data sets are collected over time. And based on my own experience in data and tech, I think you'll be surprised how accurate the modeling, or estimates to use your term, prove to be. All of this is a step beyond the business processes you've grown used to operating (and in your case, which you helped create.) So perhaps it is hard to envision how it will work when applying the familiar measurement techniques.

  3. Evan Brown from Atlatl Media, December 11, 2015 at 11 a.m.

    This is going to be a big challenge to 3rd party posting agencies who look at post buy analyses as audits of audience delivery. Is the "model" of audience delivery enough? or do we need actual data?  If it is the latter ... Hellooooo Rentrak. 

  4. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, December 11, 2015 at 1:06 p.m.

    Evan, viewer data from Rentrak is modeled using Simmons survey data. That is far, far less realiable than what Nielsen proposes and is working diligently to fix.  Nielsen is on a strong track finally, and that is good news for those of us who have to find a way to report to clients using legacy as well as future-oriented audience definitons and measures.  

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 11, 2015 at 1:56 p.m.

    Dorothy, when you say "data from Rentrak is modeled using Simmons survey work" I assume that you are referring to the product usage part of the Simmons studies. Maybe I'm wrong. As far as I know, all Rentrak has is set usage, not viewer data. Even if PPM findings are integrated with the Rentrak data, one is still mixing apples and oranges as PPMs purport to measure people's "viewing" and the findings differ significantly from household ratings especially in homes with heads of house aged 18-49.

  6. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, December 11, 2015 at 2:59 p.m.

    This Nielsen announcement and these comments once again underline the vital importance of common, harmonized, high quality and consequently comparable currencies/ratings within (intra) and across (inter) media channels.  As such it reflects the general ignorance of and the mess that is US media measurement which these comments sadly confirm (sorry!) despite the tremendous efforts of the MRC that apparently is about to be by-passed by Nielsen. 
    Discussions of this nature remind global media research architects of the lack of a Joint Industry Commitee (JIC) approach in the US that is common in the rest of the world in developing albeit imperfect currencies but at cost effective levels of quality and investment levels and which in its absense consistently allows Nielsen to get away with generally mediocre quality data at egregious costs. 
    I would be remiss if I did not commend Ed Papazian for attempting to steeer us to the truth and the various lessons we have apprently not learned, even though we do not always agree.  Special thanks for the reminder that MRC "accreditation" while vital in a non-JIC environment does not necessarily mean ratings/data are as accurate or as comparable as we might understand.  As he will confirm I believe, there is no gold standard in media ratings for any channel but based on the billions invested in advertising and programming we should never give up its pursuit albeit based on cost effective soutions using technological/integrated solutions when and if such technologies and techniques are accurate to known levels. 

  7. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 11, 2015 at 4:07 p.m.

    Thanks, Tony. And, yes, I agree that there is no "gold standard" to evaluate TV audience measurement against. Once upon a time, it was believed that the coincidental phone call was the "gold standard", but even if that was so---and I never bought into it fully---those days are long past us.

    What is happening now, and it was predictable I'm sorry to say, is that having "data" trumps having valid data---- if getting the latter slows us down or is too time consuming and costly for our tastes. Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting my time pointing out the more glaring fallacies, but it is encouraging to know that others---yourself, Nick, John, etc.---share my concerns and are willing to go public about them as the need arises.

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 11, 2015 at 4:28 p.m.

    Henry, I may be "old school" but I have a pretty good idea what you and others are saying. My problem with "the data" is not so much about ascription---merging "big data" TV ratings with third party sources on product buying---but more with the limitations of the primary data source. The plain fact---and this will eventually become evident once the "data architects" get into it and begin to work out the correlations---concerns the distinction between set usage and "people" ratings. This is not a minor point or a technical quibble. Simply blending household purchase information into household set usage data gives you a very distorted indication of consumer viewing preferences----especially for the most common targets---younger to middle aged adults living in affluent homes. Because of this my issue is not so much about blending such indices into Nielsen's viewer ratings from an ascription basis, but, rather, the inherent errors in the  base data. Putting it simply, many shows that appear to index high in targeting an advertiser's prospects based on set usage metrics actually perform at a sub par level where key viewer groups are concerned, while the reverse is true for many low scorers.

    My second problem concerns the practicality of the proposed eBay-style, real time planning/buying scenario for TV. Even if good data were available, there is much more to using television than target group impressions delivered at the lowest cost. Also, it is most unlikely that the major sellers will accept an eBay-style, rate card, cherry picking system for their "premium content"---and I don't mean just primetime---as this works against their interests.

    This doesn't mean that over time there wont be a meeting of the opposing minds and, by compromise, the old way of doing things will be blended in with the new technology---but this will happen only when both buyers and sellers see an advantage and when the appropriate data is really available.As for the idea that marketing directors, brand managers, media directors, etc will ever go to a system that requires them to make day by day adjustments in their media buys and ad campaigns---based on sales and other data----color me skeptical. After all, we're talking about people, not robots.

  9. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, December 11, 2015 at 6:03 p.m.

    The truth in Joe Mandese's reporting is frightening.
    The wisdom in Ed Papazian's comments is glorious.
    The solipsism in Nielsen's Management and Marketing is reprehensible.
    The integrity in George Ivie's leadership of the Congressionally-Mandate MRC is laudable.
    The Nielsen Company is less about measurment quality and more about quality earnings.  
    That's why today is Nielsen Analyst Day on Wall St.  And a good time was had by all investors!

     "Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi!"

  10. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, December 14, 2015 at 11:21 a.m.

    Hi, Ed.  Rentrak household data is modeled with Simmons viewer data.  So, for example, if your target is M25-54, HHI$100K+ Rentrak will provide "ratings" based upon the likelihood of that household containing that demographic in its household make-up.  It is not at all the same currency as Nielsen.  This is why we are skeptical of using Rentrak in lieu of Nielsen as the modeling has two strikes against it: 1. It is survey based, 2. it is not compatible with our Nielsen currency without a lot of conversion/translation work.

  11. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 14, 2015 at 12:42 p.m.

    Thanks for that clarification, Dorothy. I can see why you are reluctant to use the set usage/recent viewing combo which is tenuous at best, instead of Nielsen.

  12. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, December 14, 2015 at 6:22 p.m.

    The Conspiracy of Silence Is BAD, WORSE, WORST! 

    I think the silence around the status of MRC Accreditation Work was originally intended to protect research companies from the theft of their intellectual properties and business advantages.  Only Fair.  Only Right.

    Given Nielsen's virtual monopoly of the TV Audience Measurment Business, unchallenged for more than 15 years, Nielsen is virtually unthreatened.

    Could today's lack of transparency be a confidence scheme of TV buyers and TV sellers?  With TV Advertising Revenue now at $71.1 Billion, there's GOOD reason to keep quiet.  But there's BETTER reason to think the Advertising Industry would BEST served by having an accredited (i.e., highest measurment quality affirmed) TV currency when the New Year starts.  So, let's review ...


    • The truth in Joe Mandese's reporting is frightening.

    • The wisdom in Ed Papazian's comments is glorious.

    • The solipsism in Nielsen's Management and Marketing is reprehensible.

    • The integrity in George Ivie's leadership of the Congressionally-Mandate MRC is laudable.

    • The Nielsen Company is less about measurment quality and more about quality earnings.  


    So how did that Nielsen Analyst Day go on Wall Street Friday!  Looks like Nielsen has closed down two days in a row?  No Correlation.  No Causation.  Just Nonsense.


     "Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi!"

  13. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, December 28, 2015 at 1:05 p.m.

    And today the latest headline from Joe Mandese: "Nielsen Begins Modelling National Ratings, Will Remain Accredited Until 'Re-evaluated' in Early 2016".  Hopefully Congress is watching very closely?

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