Glitches: An Open Letter to Nielsen & Network & Agency Research Departments

Regarding the latest "technical glitch" affecting Nielsen's TV ratings, it would be useful and advantageous to have anticipated it before it happened.

Next time, you can.

I believe Nielsen is generally good, but every company makes mistakes -- and Nielsen is no different.

This latest glitch spanned a period of approximately 223 days and affected the national television networks. To help scope the problem based on generalizations regarding network feed, I estimate this glitch may have impacted nearly 28,000 hours of TV programming and 896,000 commercials. Value of ad inventory potentially affected by the glitch may have totaled more than $4 billion.

The significance of the glitch -- the delta between the reported ratings and the actual ratings -- will ultimately determine the dollars lost or gained by the industry.

It is important to understand how this affects you. And going forward, it is critical to have a plan to work through these mistakes. Your concerns should be adequately addressed by Nielsen and resolved to your satisfaction. With client satisfaction at the forefront of service-based business models, I'd like to encourage Nielsen to be transparent about the size of the delta and what inventory was truly affected by their glitch. I'm further gratified that Ernst & Young LLP and the industry-backed Media Rating Council (MRC) joined the probe.

I recognize Nielsen is trying to improve itself. The Council for Research Excellence (CRE) is a positive development. But best business practices suggest Nielsen should do more to assume accountability when mistakes occur. It can be a benefit to itself and its thousands of clients, if it augments its efforts to assure the most accurate metrics are being produced as well as reported.

If it has not done so already, I'd suggest Nielsen possibly consider committing six-sigma protocols across multiple aspects of its business to preempt and minimize future glitches. After all, Nielsen has a lot of moving parts and different divisions working together to produce its product. I do not believe in throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. After all, Nielsen produces a lot a good data.

Unfortunately, networks, advertisers, agencies, and MVPDs typically do not factor these mistakes into their prognostications ahead of time. But they probably should.

Keep in mind this wasn't the first Nielsen glitch. Nor will it be the last.

15 comments about "Glitches: An Open Letter to Nielsen & Network & Agency Research Departments ".
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  1. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 4, 2014 at 10:02 a.m.

    Before I comment, I wish to know who is the "We" to which you, Craig Jaffe, refer in your commentary. Thank you very much. (signed) Nicholas P. Schiavone

  2. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, November 4, 2014 at 10:45 a.m.

    Please provide your interpretation of the technical glitch. Thanks.

  3. Pat Liguori from ABC Owned TV Stations, November 4, 2014 at 3:58 p.m.

    Nielsen went the Six Sigma route a few years ago. A lot of good that did.

  4. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 4, 2014 at 5:16 p.m.

    Dear Pat,
    I am afraid you did not understand what Nielsen was doing a few years ago. As I understand it, Nielsen gave their clients, not their measurement systems, a Sick-Sigmoidoscopy (sic). In the course of so doing, it administered a lot of discomfort to see what the clients' pain threshhold really was. Clients became so distracted that they thought they heard Nielsen say it was applying the "GE Six Sigma" approach to its business and measurement processes. (Nielsen's former CEO, David Calhoun, came from GE, so one could forgive the confusion under the torturous circumstances.) Fortunately, clients have strong constitutions and became hardened to the repeated probing and prodding. That was until last month's twin discoveries of major problems in the NPM and the NOCR. However, enough is enough. It's time for clients to subject Nielsen to the appropriate corporate tests of common sense, professional skill and human decency. Alas, we already know what we would find. I think it's time to change doctors.
    Best regards,
    PS: "Primum non nocere" (First, do no harm.) is a phrase first articulated by Thomas Sydenham (1624–1689) in a book by Thomas Inman (1860), "Foundation for a New Theory and Practice of Medicine." It's not too late for Nielsen to learn and to adopt such a scientific principle as a corporate goal, is it?

  5. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 5, 2014 at 7:12 p.m.

    All Jokes Aside ... This "GLITCH" is not amusing!
    One is profoundly concerned and disappointed that Craig Jaffe has failed to respond to questions posed by Leonard Zachary and me. When someone issues a "Glitches" Manifesto using the word "We," the readers of MediaPost's "Online Metrics Insider" are entitled to know the identity and meaning of "We" beyond the obvious. One needs to know who owns these "Glitches" comments so that one knows whether one is being used or invited to think along with the writer. I do not carry a brief for Nielsen or any other organization mentioned in "Glitches," but Craig Jaffe has an obligation to identify himself and his associates in this declaration of indignation and answer the legitimate questions raised around it. The Declaration of Independence had 56 signers on July 4, 1776; signers clearly recognizable to this day on the historic document. (
    "Glitches" had no signers yesterday, November 4, 2014. I recommend that MediaPost delete this post until its author(s) take(s) responsibility for their declarations on this crucial matter. There are enough measurement mysteries without adding to the mess. Signed, Nicholas P. Schiavone
    Cc Media Post Editor-In-Chief

  6. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, November 6, 2014 at 7:09 a.m.

    With respect to Nick Schiavone's suggestion that we (meaning MediaPost) delete this column, our policy is not to remove content we've published even when it might be confusing, problematic or wrong. Instead, we make every effort to set the record straight and to do it as publicly as possible. One of the benefits of having an active and engaged community of readers (like Mr. Schiavone) is they actually help us to set the record straight. Normally, we don't like altering a guest columnist's own words without their direct input, and we would still like to have Mr. Jaffe set his own record straight, but we agree that the use of the "we" pronoun was at the very least confusing to some, so our copydesk has edited it out.

  7. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 6, 2014 at 9:51 p.m.

    Dear MediaPost & Mr. Mandese, I appreciate the careful manner in which you have responded to this matter. I agree: one ought not change published content, as if to rewrite history. We cannot and should not. As the silence of Mr. Jaffe is unusual, I hope all is well with regard to his concerns. Nonetheless, I await his public response in due course. ( I expect that the question of Mr. Zachary remains unanswered, as well.) Engaged readers need to understand what was behind his Manifesto seemingly aimed at Nielsen. MediaPost's abiding concern with journalistic quality and integrity, as well as its and comprehensive and competent coverage of the under-covered media research industry is a source of great help to its vast readership. Thank you very much. Sincerely, Nicholas P. Schiavone, Founding Member of Nicholas P. Schiavone, L.L.C., former Chief Research Officer of NBC, former Member of the Boards of Directors of the ARF and the MRC, and current Member of AAPOR and WAPOR (American and World Associations for Public Opinion Research.)

  8. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 7, 2014 at 12:26 p.m.

    Dear MediaPost & Mr. Mandese, I have changed my mind. The facts in this case have changed markedly. The "Online Metrics Insider" Column by Craig Jaffe published on November 4, 2014 at 9:25 AM should be deleted in three days time - to allow readers to understand Mr. Jaffee's transgressions. Given Mr. Craig Jaffe's reply this morning (11.07.14), "Glitches: An Open Letter to Nielsen & Network & Agency Research Departments" was a veiled sales pitch for his consulting practice. And the "We" to which he referred in Tuesday column were his employees, not a plebiscite of industry researchers, buyers or planners -- as was implied and easily inferred. Mr. Jaffe could have made all the the same points and answered all the questions raised in a forthcoming manner. Instead, he chose to be coy and deceptive. While it might be argued that we all have a vested interest in something, we all have an obligation to be business professionals of principle, honesty and integrity. Not only does Mr. Craig Jaffe make clear today that he was originally making a pitch on Tuesday at the expense of Nielsen, its clients and the good readers of MediaPost, but also Mr. Jaffe doubles down and makes a not-so-subtle business pitch today. That's just shameful. Enough. Please remove the original column by Mr. Jaffee, unless he had paid MediaPost an advertising fee. In which case, the column needs a banner that explains that Mr. Jaffe is engaging in "commercial speech" and not research analysis. Thank you very much. I look forward to an official acknowledgement from MediaPost that I propose be shared with all readers. Sincerely, Nicholas P. Schiavone

  9. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, November 7, 2014 at 12:36 p.m.

    Mr. Schiavone: We respect your opinions and your right to express them -- especially in the comments fields of other people's commentaries -- but as we stated earlier, we do not remove content, because some readers may not feel it passes their litmus test of acceptability. As I stated previously, that is part of the value of having community commentary on these pieces, and I think you've made your case well. Up until the point of implying that someone paid MediaPost a fee to have a column published. While others in the trade publishing industry may or may not do that, I can assure you it is our policy at MediaPost never to do that. Frankly, for you to imply we might is either a little insulting, or shows how cynical people have grown about the way our business operates.

  10. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 7, 2014 at 1:06 p.m.

    Thank you, Mr. Mandese. I regret that you inferred from my last comment that MediaPost had accepted a fee for posting the column in question. My point, quite to the contrary, is that Mr. Craig Jaffe abused his privilege as a commentator and seems to have solicited business under false pretenses. In effect, what I said is that MediaPost has been used against its will. "Glitches" was a business solicitation and MediaPost should either be paid for carrying Mr. Jaffe's ad -- or MediaPost should delete "Glitches" for being a deceptive, distorted and misleading piece of editorial/content. I regret that we all move so fast that this level of misunderstanding can arise so innocently, while masters of disguise like Mr. Jaffe can say one thing and truly mean another. Research is one thing; solicitation is another. MediaPost has always kept things straight. I would like to see that continue. Signed, Nicholas P. Schiavone

  11. Craig Jaffe from Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business, November 7, 2014 at 3:37 p.m.

    The letter was written because we felt the subject is of interest to the industry. We are disappointed to learn you misunderstood this intention.

  12. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 7, 2014 at 4:40 p.m.

    "Letter"? "We"? "Misunderstood"? I think not. More like 'Sales Pitch,' 'You (I)' and 'Fully Comprehended.' I'm afraid "The road to hell is paved with good 'intention(s)'"such as these. Onwards and upwards. Signed. Nicholas P. Schiavone

  13. Chuck Lantz from, network, November 7, 2014 at 5:26 p.m.

    Mr. Schiavone: With the football season in full swing, all I can say is "nice catch."

  14. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 7, 2014 at 5:44 p.m.

    Dear Mr. Lantz, I shall not deny that I am grateful for your kind words and implied moral support. Onward and upwards. Sincerely, Nicholas P. Schiavone

  15. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, November 7, 2014 at 7:25 p.m.

    We removed an earlier comment from the author of this opinion piece, Craig Jaffe, soliciting readers to contact him for help, and we're closing further comments to this column.

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