Local Ratings Controversy: Nielsen Angered By 4As' Claims

Concerning the controversy over changing local TV ratings, the Nielsen Company has responded to the angry letter from the 4As (MDN, Nov. 14) refuting the claim that it has "inserted itself into the buy/sell process." At the same time, Nielsen did offer some possible modification.

In a letter from Sara Erichson, president of media client services North America, to Marc Goldstein, president and CEO of GroupM North America and chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies' Media Policy Committee, Erichson writes:

  "I would like to stress that we have absolutely no desire to be stuck in the middle between buyers and sellers as now seems the case. We urge buyers and sellers to work together to determine what data set(s) they collectively need from Nielsen to transact business, mindful of the changed viewing environment which has impacted audiences associated with traditional measurement."

A furor erupted earlier this month when The Nielsen Company made a decision to eliminate long-used live-only program ratings for local TV stations, replacing them with live-plus-same-day DVR playback ratings. Group M and Starcom MediaVest senior executives have voiced their displeasure with the decision.

Media-buying executives say live-plus-same-day DVR ratings can instantly add 13% in ratings to local TV programming -- something they claim is unfair to advertisers, especially since 60% of that additional viewing also includes fast-forwarding of commercials.

Goldstein penned an angry letter to Nielsen saying: "Your total disregard for the expressed concerns of local broadcast media buyers, coupled with your adamant refusal to recognize our point of view is totally unacceptable."

In the Nielsen response to Goldstein, Erichson says: "The only side we have taken is one in favor of best depicting contemporary viewing behavior .... the only side we have taken is one in favor of best depicting contemporary viewing behavior."

However, Erichson did appear to offer some movement on the issue:

  "We are committed to continuing the discussion with all our clients and are open to suggestions that find common ground between buyers and sellers. For example, at a meeting of the 4As Media Research Committee earlier this week, we were conducting a bit of brainstorming on the spot looking for possible compromises."

The new research metric goes into effect January 1.

In addition to the 4As, the ANA Television Advertising Committee has opposed Nielsen's recent decision to modify the reporting data streams made available in local markets. The organization says the modification would eliminate the Live Only data stream in January 2010 and replace it with the new Live + Same Day stream.

"The ANA, and more specifically the ANA's Television Advertising Committee, has continually been a strong advocate for increased granularity when it comes to commercial ratings," stated Bob Liodice, ANA president/CEO.

The complete Nielsen letter is printed here:

November 20, 2009

Dear Marc,

I am writing in response to your letter to Susan Whiting dated November 18th.

Let me start off by addressing your concern that Nielsen is "taking sides" and that we have "inserted ourselves in the buy/sell process". We could not disagree more and believe that your suggestion that we have sacrificed our credibility is inappropriate and misplaced. The only side we have taken is one in favor of best depicting contemporary viewing behavior. Given the growing penetration and usage of DVRs, we believe the research is undeniable in suggesting that Live Only ratings no longer offer an accurate picture of the television viewing that occurs on an individual day.

In addition, the only side we have taken is one in favor of best depicting contemporary viewing behavior. As you know, this sometimes requires tough choices.

I would like to stress that we have absolutely no desire to be stuck in the middle between buyers and sellers as now seems the case. We urge buyers and sellers to work together to determine what data set(s) they collectively need from Nielsen to transact business, mindful of the changed viewing environment, which has impacted audiences associated with traditional measurement. Currently, it seems to us that there are no conversations taking place between buyers and sellers along those lines and we hope that this might change in the coming weeks.

Finally, we are committed to continuing the discussion with all our clients and are open to suggestions that find common ground between buyers and sellers. For example, at a meeting of the 4As Media Research Committee earlier this week, we were conducting a bit of brainstorming on the spot looking for possible compromises. As I just read in a separate letter from Donna Campbell I see that the ideas generated from that conversation were all dismissed as being insufficient. Hopefully, however, dialogue along those lines can continue.

5 comments about "Local Ratings Controversy: Nielsen Angered By 4As' Claims".
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  1. Lindy Sieker from Empower MediaMarketing, November 24, 2009 at 4:04 p.m.

    Do we know that more than 25% of viewing is time shifted? Is there merit in having our retail clients' time-specific sales suffer from time-shifting? I don't want, care about or need to know who saw my spot after the sale window is closed. This is totally inaccurate data for my large list of retailers to have to deal with. They want to know who did see it during the sale window. We've expressed our concerns to a closed mind.

  2. Bob Pagura from Mid-West Family Broadcasting, November 25, 2009 at 9:15 a.m.

    Why not provide both live and time-shifted data? Then buyers and sellers can analyze and negotiate from there. They have both, why not provide them?

  3. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, November 25, 2009 at 9:56 a.m.

    Playing the ratings game is a two-edged sword.

    For example, a program generating a 3 rating in women 18-49 is really a program "failing to reach" 97% of that demo. The only time that 3 rating looks any good is when it's compared to another station in the same market with, let's say, a 2 rating for the same demo and time period. Station #1's audience is suddenly 50% larger than station #2's. But in actuality, station #2 fails to reach only 1% fewer women 18-49 than station #1 (98% failure vs 97% failure).

    What about poor sales rep at station #3 which garners only a 1 rating for the same demo and time period? Station #1's rating is three times as big as his! Station #3's rep's only solace is to point out the fact that his station's audience is only 2% smaller than station #1's.

    Can you see where I'm going with this tallest midget debate? We've created an illogical-extreme scenario whereby success is measured in terms of relative failure.

    Worse yet, given the trends, pretty soon there will be more folks measuring the audience than are in the audience.

    BTW, read any good books lately?

  4. Dave Woodall from fiorano associates, November 25, 2009 at 1:59 p.m.

    Nielsen already knows the solution: Advertisers need commercial ratings, not program ratings. If Nielsen would simply provide the same data set locally that they do nationally, this would be a non-issue.
    The problem with Nielsen's current solution is that it requires buyers and sellers to estimate on their own how much time-shifted viewing is occurring...as opposed to an estimate provided by a more objective third party (Nielsen) that both can live with. Buyers are going to use the most liberal estimate of time-shifted viewing they can justify while sellers will opt for the most conservative. Erichson's plea for buyers and sellers to work together ignores the basic adversarial nature of the relationship.
    On this point too, I completely disagree with the 4A's assertion that "(Nielsen has) inserted itself into the buy/sell process". Nielsen has always been a part of the buy/sell process, just in the background; kind of like a judge at trial. It is precisely BECAUSE of their presence that peace and order is maintained.
    The issue here is that Nielsen changed the rules, which ended up favoring one of the parties. Now, the judge (Nielsen) is telling the plaintiff (buyers) and defendant (sellers) to "work out your differences and let me know what you come up with"! Good luck with that.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research, November 25, 2009 at 5:06 p.m.

    Bob, you are spot on.

    Downunder in Australia we switch all our TV currencies to include time-shifted viewing from the start of the 2010 television year.

    The industry will receive (a) 'live' only data (in the same minute) (b) 'overnight' ratings which is 'live' plus 'as-live' data - programmes played back before 2am when we "close" the research day to allow the 5,000+ homes to be polled (c) 'consolidated' ratings which add any playback within seven days.

    While I am sure there will be some teething problems, a "direct TV" client can access 'live' ratings, a "retail client" can access 'overnight' ratings, while a "brand client" can access 'consolidated' ratings.

    Also, should during the playback of a programme an ad be skipped (i.e. not played in real-time with volume on) then no "credit" is given to the ad when the campaign is post-analysed.

    Further, a variable has been added called "Time From Broadcast" that allows analysis of how far into that seven days the playback occurred. We have also added a variable to analyse homes that have a playback device (DVR, VCR, CD-RW etc) versus those that don't.

    Roll on 2010 !!!

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