Nielsen Discloses Major TV Ratings Glitch, Could Impact Millions In TV Ad Buys

A week after unveiling an aggressive plan to convince the ad industry to use its new Facebook panel as the "GRP" for online advertising and media buys, Nielsen Wednesday began informing clients about a major snafu with the one that generates GRPs for the multibillion television advertising marketplace. Nielsen said the glitch has been generating incorrect data for most of this year for GRPs and the reach and frequency estimates used as the basis for most TV advertising plans. Nielsen said the problem is under investigation, but some agency executives already believe it could lead to big problems with their TV audience guarantees that could result in millions of dollars in "makegoods" from television networks.

In the notice it sent to clients Wednesday, Nielsen said the problem began when it implemented a new method for calculating average audience estimates in its main TV ratings processing system beginning in February, and that it appears to have been delivering "incorrect data for time-shifted data streams" since Jan. 31. Nielsen's so-called C3 ratings, which include time-shifted viewing for three days after a program and its advertising have aired, is the official currency for the national TV advertising marketplace, and the basis for most TV advertising buys and audience guarantees.

Nielsen said it became aware of the problem when clients "inquired about elevated average frequency levels" for the time-shifted viewing data, indicating that the glitch may have over-inflated TV audience estimates.

"This is another embarrassment for Nielsen similar to not picking up the entire URL for their Net Ratings service last year," groused Brad Adgate, the head of research at independent media agency Horizon Media, referring to a major glitch Nielsen disclosed with its online ratings processing in 2010 (Online Media Daily Dec. 2, 2010).

Adgate said the system where the new TV ratings problem occurred, Nielsen's NPower platform, is what most advertisers and agencies use to get their reach and frequency and GRP, or gross rating point, estimates for their advertising buys and guarantees, as well as their "post buy analyses" for evaluating their performance.

Asked if the glitch could lead to makegoods for TV advertising buys, Adgate said, "potentially," but he also noted that the GRP estimates could be processed manually, if necessary.

The timing is unfortunate and ironic, because it comes at a time when Nielsen is making a major push to gain industry confidence - especially among major advertisers and agencies - to make its new Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings (NOCR) the GRP equivalent for online advertising buys (Online Media Daily Sept. 14).

Wayne Friedman and David Goetzl contributed to this story.

4 comments about "Nielsen Discloses Major TV Ratings Glitch, Could Impact Millions In TV Ad Buys".
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  1. Paul Benjou from The Center for Media Management Strategies, September 22, 2011 at 8:55 a.m.

    The industry has become lazy and complacent allowing third party services to take over the role of agency research professionals. If Nielsen made mistakes in their calculations over the last year, why didn't the agencies catch this?
    Give a kid a calculator and he forgets how to do the math and accepts the results without question. So sad.

  2. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, September 22, 2011 at 10:23 a.m.

    This brings back memories of 1983. It had been a record year for rainfall in NYC by a wide margin, but at the end of the year it was revealed that the rain gauge at Central Park, where official weather stats are reported, had been broken all year! Since there was no way to go back and recalculate it was a "lost" year.

  3. Larry Goldstein from Retired: comScore, Inc., September 22, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.


    Having spent the better part of the morning running this down, it is clear that today's coverage has blown this well out of proportion, starting with a sensational headline "Nielsen Discloses Major TV Ratings Glitch, Could Impact Millions In TV Ad Buys" that is truly irresponsible.

    Nielsen's own disclosure shows this impacting NPower, a research system that is significantly removed from the posting process (not connected to buying platforms, certainly not the source for MSA's commonly used for cable posting, etc.). While we continue to pursue even greater details, current information suggests this DOES NOT impact Nielsen Media Information Tapes (MITs) that are used by DDS, Harris, MediaBank and others to post buys.

    Further, while we agree that Nielsen and other research suppliers should be working diligently to improve quality controls/avoid errors altogether, this has nothing to do with the Nielsen NetRatings on Online Campaign Ratings services.

    No doubt, the MRC and its external auditors, Ernst & Young, will be investigating to assure that they have both fixed this properly and taken the steps required to prevent another lapse but we would encourage the press to assure that it understands these issues before blowing things out of proportion.

    Larry Goldstein
    Chief Media & Research Officer
    Media Management, Inc.

  4. Thomas Bridge from Ebiquity, September 22, 2011 at 4:38 p.m.

    It is apparent that this story ran prior to any legitimate fact checking. While the industry acknowledges that there are issues with Nielsen, the quick move to sensationalism in lieu of journalism is a much bigger issue.

    As Media Management, Inc's head of media research, Larry Goldstein has pointed out, the issue with Nielsen is not one that will have any impact on ADU's or as reported....makegoods, which are not the same as an ADU!

    Thomas Bridge
    Chief Executive Officer
    Media Management, Inc.

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