Nielsen Issues Gag Order, Warns Clients Not To Disclose 'Impact'

In a move that industry execs say is tantamount to a gag order, Nielsen this week sent a tersely worded warning to clients that they would be violating the “permissible use” terms of their contracts if they disclose any of the so-called “impact” data it has begun releasing this month as part of its aggressive ratings sample expansion plan.

“If you choose to access the impact data the terms of your agreement with Nielsen will apply to that impact data and additionally you agree to abide by the following limitations,” Nielsen wrote, asserting that the data “is for your company’s internal use only.”

The notice also warned clients that the data cannot be used for “buying, planning, posting, sales or other commercial purposes,” a demand that shifts Nielsen from a provider of audience estimates to a rule-maker of marketplace currencies.



The notice also asserted that Nielsen “retains sole ownership of the impact data” and that its clients are forbidden to “lend, share, distribute, sell, give, lease, exchange or transfer possession of all or any part” of it.

The notice also included updates on Nielsen’s schedule for distributing the data beginning this month and continuing through the start of the new TV season in September -- but provided no new details about when and how a final decision would be made to shift from the current “tabulation” method that has been the basis of its ratings since it began measuring television in the 1950s to the new hybrid modeling method many believe already is a fait accompli beginning this fall.

While Nielsen has maintained that it has been discussing the methodological shift for years with certain influential clients, others believe the company is making a bum’s rush to push the change forward without the kind of public forum used to vet fundamental methodological changes in the past, such as its shift to so-called “weighting” schemas a decade ago, or the shift from paper diaries to people meters in the late 1980s.

Noting that the shift to modeling may be an even bigger methodological change to national TV ratings than the introduction of people meters, some TV ratings research veterans point out that those previous shifts were done with transparent public scrutiny, overseen by independent consultants with input from industry organizations and watchdogs.

“This should be treated like a government hearing with full transparency,” said one knowledgeable TV industry research vet, adding that the wording of the Nielsen notice was unprecedented in the way it dictates how its clients “can use these data.”

In a statement, a Nielsen spokesperson asserted that the “permissible use” language is a “standard course of business” whenever Nielsen provides new data to clients, but MDN could find no such language in any previous Nielsen client notification provided to us over the past decade. While it is customary language included in Nielsen’s contracts with customers, sources said they’ve never seen it communicated that way in a mass client notification, and described it as an explicit “threat” intended to prevent open dialogue and discussion about the impact of the the impact data.

“Our approach to providing national impact data in advance of the national panel expansion in the fall has been and will continue to be one of transparency,” the Nielsen spokesperson added. “Thousands of clients and hundreds of client companies will receive very granular impact data covering 11 months. Those companies include networks, studios, agencies, advertisers, trade associations and more.

“The data are being provided in multiple Nielsen systems and third-party systems so clients can access the data in different ways.  And, we are producing summary reports and data files to supplement the release of the data. All of this is in addition to the detailed methodological documents that we have sent to clients over the course of the past two months. Those documents have reviewed the methods in significant detail with accompanying validation data. And, we continue to meet with clients and client committees on an ongoing basis to review and discuss all of our planned enhancements.”

Given the magnitude of the potential impact of the methodological changes that Nielsen plans to make, some clients feel that is not an objective enough platform to discuss and evaluate the shift, especially insofar as it impacts the national TV advertising marketplace’s currency.

Research principles aside, one source said the shift represents some very practical issues of advertisers, agencies and media sellers who are about to begin negotiating upfront advertising deals for the 2015-16 season that the new methods will impact.

“How do we do reach and frequencies now with the people who were invented to be reached,” one disgruntled Nielsen client said, noting that a significant portion of the “viewers” Nielsen’s ratings represent next fall will be based entirely on mathematical modeling, not tabulated sample data.

“They were invented before the fact, so how do you count them after the fact,” he noted.
18 comments about "Nielsen Issues Gag Order, Warns Clients Not To Disclose 'Impact'".
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  1. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 29, 2015 at 11:48 a.m.

    The elephant in the room is a Trojan Horse.
    Elaboration to follow...

    Nicholas P. Schiavone
    Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 29, 2015 at 12:34 p.m.

    And don't stick beans up your nose either.

  3. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, April 29, 2015 at 12:41 p.m.

    @Douglas Ferguson: Quaint, whatever that means.

  4. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 29, 2015 at 1:14 p.m.


    History, literature & mythology suggest sometime between 1260 and 1240 BC that “after a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, the Trojan Horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war. “(Wikipedia)

    In recent times, the Trojan horse has emerged in a new form.  Today it is “a destructive computer program that masquerades as a benign application. … One of the most insidious types of Trojan horse is a program that claims to rid your computer of viruses but instead introduces viruses onto your computer.” (Webopedia)

    Permit me to add a third Trojan Horse to the Global Vocabulary.  (In fact, the next stop is Wikipedia where the entry shall be presented for validation and emendations.)

    After reviewing the MediaPost article on Nielsen’s “Gag Order,” it strikes me that Nielsen, like the Greeks of Mythology, has invented an all-too-real Trojan horse … after 10 fruitless years of trying to keep pace with the TV/Digital and the Advertising/Marketing Industries.   

    As the computer world has come to recognize Trojan Computer Virus, today the Advertising & Media Industries are forced to recognize the Trojan People Meter Household (TPMH).  (A copyright for the term has been applied for.  This initial publication of the term is part of that filing.)

    • To be continued (Due to space limitations appropriate to MediaPost Publications, this reflection will be continued in my next Comment.  

    • Thank you


  5. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 29, 2015 at 1:27 p.m.

    (continued from prior NPS Comment)


    In short, it would seem that Nielsen’s efforts to expand sample (NPX) in the National People Meter Panel by using modeled demographic  viewing data from Set Meter Household is no more or no less than the destruction of a TV Marketplace and Ad Currency that has stood well the test of time…some 65 years.  Why?  Because since 1950 Nielsen has TABULATED, not modeled or fabricated, all the tuning and viewing estimates that go into the appropriately revered Nielsen Television Ratings found in the Nielsen Television Index.

    If Nielsen has its way, the sacrosanct nature of the methodology and resultant tabulated data will no longer be a reality by the fall of 2015.

    The problem with feigning, pretending, faking, affecting or inventing data in a survey research panel should be obvious.  All I shall say is that a dog has only 4 legs, even if you choose to call the tail a “fifth leg.”

    It’s one thing for Nielsen to attempt this subterfuge; it’s another for Clients to act as if we don’t understand what’s really happening.  If the industry wants  an audience measure that is “valid, reliable and useful,” then the solution is not engage in a new Trojan War… lying to each other, buyer and seller, with someone else’s statistical fibs.  The Trojan Horse was ultimately empty.  So is Nielsen’s NPX Plan.

    In the 1960’s, the inept spy, Maxwell Smart, from NBC TV Series “Get Smart,” would call down the “Cone of Silence” for secret conversations.  However, the cone had the opposite effect.  Onlookers easily heard.  The “Intelligence” community could not.    Now, more than ever, we need to separate Nielsen’s fictions from the clients’ reality.  The industry needs real tabulated data from the Nielsen Panel.

    Let us hope that if all else fails that the Media Rating Council (MRC) will rise to its Congressional-Mandated Mission and Duty of protecting the integrity of media ratings,
    as opposed to facilitating the fabrication of ersatz ratings data.  

    It's now time for the Industry to decide whether or not Nielsen TV Ratings are a Myth or not.

    Onwards & Upwards.

    Nicholas P. Schiavone
    Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC

  6. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 29, 2015 at 1:48 p.m.

    Dear Douglas,

    If your comment was intended to disparage the notion of reflection, it's time for you to depart the College of Charleston.

    If your comment was intended to encourage serious thinking about serious matters, it's time to convene a College Colloquium on the Nature of Truth.

    As a Thomist, I am afraid I am uncertain of your meaning.

    • "Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur."

    • Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 75, a. 5; 3a, q. 5.  

    Ever hopeful that your message was sent in the spirit of gracious collegiality, full disclosure and complete transparency ...

    Onwards & Upwards.

    Nicholas P. Schiavone

  7. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, April 29, 2015 at 5:28 p.m.

    Time for the new "Harris Commision" on TV Ratings?  MRC Executive and Department of Justice please note and take meaningful action!   

    Tony Jarvis

  8. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, April 29, 2015 at 6:44 p.m.


  9. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 29, 2015 at 7:38 p.m.

    As the last Chairman of CONTAM, which was also a by-product of the Harris Committee, it is my duty to inform readers that there was no "Harris Commission on TV Ratings."

    Thanks to the MRC, we have a good record of what actually happened. If we expect precision in our numbers, we should also rely on a precise history of where the US Media Industry's numbers and regulation come from.

    History and Mission of the MRC

    "In the early 1960’s (1960-1966) a U.S. Congressional Committee held hearings on the purpose and accuracy of audience research and considered regulation related to the TV and Radio industries.  These public hearings are commonly referred to as the “Harris Committee Hearings on Broadcast Ratings.”

    After investigation and extensive testimony the Committee determined that Industry self-regulation, including independent audits of rating services was preferable to government intervention.

    The Harris Committee hearings resulted in the formation of an Industry-funded organization to review and accredit audience rating services called the Broadcast Rating Council (now referred to as the MRC).

    Aligned with the actions deemed necessary by the House Committee, the activities of the MRC include:

    • The establishment and administration of Minimum Standards for rating operations;

    • The accreditation of rating services on the basis of information submitted by such services; and

    • Auditing, through independent CPA firms, of the activities of the rating services.


    (to be continued in the next post due to standard space restrictions)

  10. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 29, 2015 at 7:46 p.m.

    MRC (continued from prior post)

    The Council seeks to improve the quality of audience measurement by rating services and to provide a better understanding of the applications (and limitations) of rating information.  The Bylaws of the MRC document the organization’s mission as: ‘to secure for the media industry and related users audience measurement services that are valid, reliable and effective; to evolve and determine minimum disclosure and ethical criteria for media audience measurement services; and to provide and administer an audit system designed to inform users as to whether such audience measurements are conducted in conformance with the criteria and procedures developed.’  This mission was established with the support of the House Committee."



    To better understand, consider reading a book titled AUDIENCE RATINGS “It is a comprehensive, authoritative reference book concerning broadcast audience ratings.

    The author provides: a review of the major radio and television rating services, 1930-1984, including Crossley, Hooper, Nielsen, Pulse, Arbitron, Birch, Radar, AGB and others; a comparative examination of the basic ratings methodologies; a discussion of types of ratings data, their uses and related issues; and a discussion of future developments.

    Concise reviews of the major methodological studies in broadcast measurement (e.g., ARMS, CONTAM studies, COLTRAM studies, CAMS, others) are also included.  This book provides a basic textbook in broadcast audience measurement, authored by the expert, the late and beloved Mal Beville.  Mal was also the first Executive Director of the MRC, formerly the BRC (Broadcast Rating Council).”

     CONTAM (to be continued in the bext post due to standard space restrictions)


  11. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 29, 2015 at 7:58 p.m.

    Continued from prior two posts in response to T. Jarvis incorrect assertions regarding the Harris Hearings before the US Congress between 1960-1966.

    Part I.      MRC
    Part II.   "Audience Ratings"
    Part III.   CONTAM

    Finally, please note that Harris Hearings also resulted in the formation of CONTAM, the “Committee on Nationwide Television Audience Measurement.” 

    CONTAM had a distinguished history of globally-recognized, independent methodological research for over 35 years.  In fact, CONTAM invested more money in methodological research than any other organization in the world up until the cessation of its work. 

    It was abandoned by the ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC Television Networks in 1999 following the inadvertent demise of CONTAM’s successfully innovative ratings lab called SMART, managed in a distinguished, effective and efficient manner by Statistical Research, Inc. of Westfield, NJ. 

    The majority of SMART's innovative solutions to TV audience measurement problems were adopted without credit or attribution over a decade later by Nielsen Media Research.

    Onwards & Upwards.

    Nicholas P. Schiavone
    Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC
    [formerly SVP & Chief Research Officer of NBC/GE]

  12. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 29, 2015 at 8:31 p.m.

    Final thoughts after a long day of sad reflections ...


    If Kraft understands the importance of keeping artificial ingredients out of its products, why can't Nielsen?  Nielsen, it’s not too late to make the pledge!


    Kraft removing artificial dyes, preservatives from Mac & Cheese

    By PARVATI SHALLOW CBS NEWS April 20, 2015


    Consumer demand for healthy, simple ingredients has become a powerful force shaping the marketplace. Today, food giant Kraft responded with a pledge to stop using artificial preservatives and dyes in its Kraft Macaroni & Cheese by January 2016.


    Kraft says it will remove artificial preservatives and replace dyes with naturally sourced coloring ingredients like turmeric, paprika and annatto.  This reformulation isn't entirely new for Kraft; the company has already changed its popular Mac & Cheese recipe for parts of the European Union where certain yellow artificial dyes are banned due to health concerns.  …


    This year, Kraft relaunched its Macaroni & Cheese Boxed Shapes -- popular with children -- without synthetic dyes, artificial preservatives or flavors.


    "We've met with families in their homes and watched them prepare Kraft Mac & Cheese in their kitchens. They told us they want to feel good about the foods they eat and serve their families, including everything from improved nutrition to simpler ingredients," Triona Schmelter, Kraft's Vice President of Marketing, Meals, said in a press release.  …


    "They're seeing the signs and they're changing accordingly," observed Hobson. "This health and wellness trend is not a fad, it's here to stay."


    © 2015 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

  13. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, April 30, 2015 at 11:04 a.m.

    I made no "assertions" regarding the "Harris Hearings".  However the implications of my comment and your "sad reflections", notbaly regarding MRC, make the ultimate alternative solutions and my call to action crystal clear.
      1. The DoJ under whose auspices the MRC operates, possibly together with the FTC and the FCC, must be urged by the industry to "permit" MRC the scope, mandate, funding and authority it needs to stop the continuing TV ratings debacles plus Nielsen's consistently unacceptable behaviour and egregious pricing relative to quality once and for all. 
      2. If the US industry owned the TV ratings service via a JIC, similar to TV ratings measurement  internationally, it would have sole ownership and rights and determine the level of ratings quality and pricing.
    The NAB, CAB, TVB, ANA, the 4A's, et al should surely be leading these potential solutions with the MRC Executive?   Cannot wait for Joe Mandese's report!

  14. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 30, 2015 at 12:18 p.m.

    Dear Tony,

    Enough truculence, Mr. Jarvis!

    I am aware you made “no 'assertions' regarding the 'Harris Hearings'” because you called the actual process the "Harris Commision (sic) on TV Ratings" and that is incorrect and incomplete.  [See your own Comment above or below.] 

    Let us acknowledge we are debating semantics and that I only sought to provide a critical precision for a situation that, in the end, I bore responsibility, not you.

    But the beat goes on!  And I share your support for the MRC's Charter, Mission and Right Actions.  I also support the intervention of US Government Agencies when and where appropriate.

    Finally, please note that for a considerable time in my capacity as Chairperson of CONTAM, I publicly and internally supported the development of "JICTAM" which was to be an original American version of the JIC's that you know and understand so well.  With necessary and appropriate legal counsel from esteemed New York and Washington Law Firms, and in the full light of day with advertisers, agencies and media companies, substantial funds were spent to make certain that JICTAM could be launched ethically, legally and successfully.  Alas, the industry lost heart and CONTAM was forced to witness the demise of the JICTAM effort, as well as the SMART Laboratory, also a collective industry undertaking.  ...

    (To be continued immediately in next posted Comment due to the standard space criteria of MediaDailyNews.)


  15. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 30, 2015 at 12:23 p.m.

    (Continued from prior NPS post)

    Dear Tony,


    Enough truculence, Mr. Jarvis!  ...

    In sum, Tony, I believe we support the same principles where understanding and improving TV/Digital Audience Measurement in the United States and around the world is concerned.


    Thank you for the chance to provide additional information about the process of methodological research in the US, as far as I know it.  It appears the industry would not be in such dire straits with Nielsen if it had paid attention to the ratings engine, as opposed to the Sirens’ Song (check your Greek Mythology) from the hi-tech mess of bells and whistles that have distracted and disabled our industries’ progress for the past 15 years.

    Onwards & upwards.


    Nicholas P. Schiavone

    Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC


    Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, April 29, 2015 at 5:28 p.m.

    Time for the new "Harris Commision" (sic) on TV Ratings?  MRC Executive and Department of Justice please note and take meaningful action!  

    Tony Jarvis

  16. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, May 1, 2015 at 3:22 p.m.

    Are India’s TV Ratings More Advanced Than Nielsen USA?

    India launches new TV ratings system (Nyay Bhushan)May 1st 2015 2:19PM

    India has a new TV ratings system, BARC India, a joint initiative between the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA), Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI). BARC covers a sample size of 12,000 households, with plans to reach 20,000 in the near future.

    This is a significant jump compared to the 9,600 homes monitored by TAM (Television Audience Measurement), the 16-year-old system that is an equal joint venture between advertising major WPP's Kantar Media Research and Nielsen. In the U.S., Nielsen's National People Meter service has a current sample size of 12,500 homes.

    BARC released its first findings on Wednesday to its subscriber base of TV companies and advertising agencies.

    (To be continued in next NPS Comment due to standard space criteria)

  17. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, May 1, 2015 at 3:27 p.m.

    Are India’s TV Ratings More Advanced Than Nielsen USA?

    India launches new TV ratings system (Nyay Bhushan)May 1st 2015 2:19PM

    (Continued from prior comment due to space restrictions.) ... 

    In the dominant Hindi general entertainment channel rankings, 21st Century Fox's Star India flagship Hindi entertainment channel StarPlus leads the pack. Viacom18's Colors channel comes in second, followed by Star's LifeOK channel with India's Zee TV at fourth place.

    English-entertainment rankings for movie channels show Movies Now (owned by theTimes of India newspaper group) leading with a 31 percent market share followed by Star India's Star Movies (17 percent) and HBO (13 percent).

    English-entertainment channels are topped by Romedy NOW (also owned by the TOIgroup) with a 50 percent share, followed by Comedy Central (26 percent) and Zee TV's Zee Cafe (10 percent).

    BARC was originally established in 2007 following intense industry debate -; just like in the U.S. -; about an overhaul of the ratings system. In recent years, the Indian broadcasting and advertising industries hotly debated the effectiveness of TAM in a diverse multi-lingual market like India with 168 million households and 300-plus channels. This led the Indian government to issue a new set of guidelines in Jan. 2014. These ranged from revised equity holding patterns to an expanded sample base of TV homes.

    The guidelines stated that the panel size of homes had to be increased to 20,000 within six months, increasing by 10,000 annually to eventually touch 50,000 homes.

    However, industry observers have pointed out that BARC and TAM cannot be compared -; the former offers data based on households while the latter releases data based on individual viewership. ...

  18. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, May 1, 2015 at 3:30 p.m.

    Could India be more advanced than the USA in TV Ratings Measurement?

    India launches new TV ratings system (Nyay Bhushan)May 1st 2015 2:19PM

    (Continued from prior comment due to space restrictions.) ... 

    ...The Hindi channel rankings by both systems have come up with the same top two channels: StarPlus followed by Colors.

    As announced last year, BARC employs technology solutions from European companiesCivolution and Mediametrie to gauge viewership habits. Some of the newer services offered by BARC include the overnight SpotTrek which tracks commercials and movie trailers telecast on all channels.

    The NCCS system tracks viewers based on the "affluence parameters of a household" to enable smarter decision-making, both for content planners and advertisers.

    "I am thrilled to share the first set of data and highlights," said BARC India CEO ParthoDasgupta. "Team BARC India is proud to be creating history as the world's largest and future-ready television audience measurement service. Thanks to IBF, AAAI, ISA and all our partners for coming together and making this happen."

    According to a recent industry report by consultants KPMG India, India's television grew to $7.9 billion in 2014 compared to $6.95 billion in 2013. The industry is projected to touch $16.25 billion by 2019, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 15.5 percent.

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