Nielsen Begins Modeling National Ratings, Will Remain Accredited Until 'Reevaluated' In Early 2016

As Nielsen transitions today to a controversial method for modeling its national TV ratings, those ratings remain accredited, according to a statement issued on Christmas Eve by the industry’s ratings watchdog.

While the statement from the Media Rating Council noted important items and questions “remain outstanding,” it affirmed that Nielsen’s national ratings will “remain accredited,” at least until early 2016 when it will “reevaluate the accreditation status.”

The statement clears up some of the ambiguity surrounding Nielsen’s national TV ratings as it introduces the most fundamental change in its ratings methods since it introduced the people meter in 1987, but it raises some bigger questions about how much sway Nielsen holds with a self-regulatory body that was created by the media and advertising industry as part of a consent decree with the government following Congressional hearings on the 1960s TV ratings scandals.



The new method, which Nielsen calls NPX or “national panel expansion,” effectively utilizes mathematical modeling to project viewing for a substantial amount of national TV ratings, and represents a material change in the way ratings are calculated. Previously, they were based entirely on a representative sample of TV viewers.

In response to a query from MediaDailyNews, MRC President and Executive Director George Ivie said once a ratings service is accredited by the council it is “considered continuous, unless one of two things happens:

(1) MRC resolves that accreditation of the service should be revoked, by a majority of its board of directors, or (2) the service itself no longer exists or the service methodology is changed in a very material manner, as determined by audit committees and our board.”

That first condition happened with Nielsen’s local diary ratings service in 2010, when the MRC withdrew accreditation of the service following an audit that found they no longer met the industry’s minimum standards.

While the second condition appears to apply to Nielsen’s national TV ratings now, because the shift to NPX’s mathematical modeling method is a material change, the MRC is extending that accreditation until it completes its review in early 2016. The MRC did not explain why it was extending the accreditation, but executives familiar with the process say it is an indication of how much influence Nielsen has over the council.

The last time Nielsen introduced a significant new ratings method -- its so-called Online Campaign Ratings -- it worked closely with the MRC to get its accreditation pre-approved before the service was even introduced. This time, Nielsen chose to introduce a material change to an existing ratings service -- arguably its highest profile one -- despite protests from some clients and without first getting MRC approval.

According to a memo to MRC members obtained by MediaDailyNews, the council has implemented a new “enhanced security” process to curtail public disclosure about the status of Nielsen’s accreditation process. The memo explicitly cites concerns about how such disclosures will affect Nielsen.

“We remain in an interim stage, it is likely that this information will be printed in some form,” Ivie wrote in the memo, adding that coverage of Nielsen’s accreditation status “is very destructive to the MRC process – and will totally distract Nielsen from the issues with their product, and dissuade them from working with us going forward.”

18 comments about "Nielsen Begins Modeling National Ratings, Will Remain Accredited Until 'Reevaluated' In Early 2016".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, December 28, 2015 at 11:17 a.m.

    "Those who cannot remember the past
    are condemned to repeat it."
    George Santayana

    "My good friends, for the second time in our history,
    a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany
    bringing peace with honour.  
    I believe it is peace for our time.

    We thank you from the bottom of our hearts."
    Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.
    Neville Chamberlain | 30 September 1938

  2. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, December 28, 2015 at 12:52 p.m.

    Steve Hasker, recently elevated to Nielsen COO in addition to his position as Global President, has consistiently affrimed on various industry (public) platforms that Nielsen will fully follow and support the MRC processess and procedures citing the overall mutal benefits to all parties.  From my perspective and perhaps that of the DoJ or FTC, such a committment by a Nielsen Executive is essential to ameliorate any potential for claims of restraint of trade against Nielsen which operates essentially as an unregulated monopoly notably in TV and radio measurement in the US. 
    I therefore challenge Mr. Hasker to stick to his word and formally and publically affirm and detail the steps that Nielsen will take to ensure that its new National TV Ratings will be accredited by MRC asap based on the fullest co-operation and with every efficiency. 

    N.B. Our understanding is that MRC staff does not, nor is allowed to "pre-approve" services for accreditation.  However their strictly confidential assessment and evaluation of a new or radically modified service prior to a formal submission for accreditation offers research companies comprehensive insights as to whether accreditaion would likely be approved and/or what changes would be required to optimize the likelihood of approval.  Final accreditation approval remains with the appropriate Accreditation Committee and the MRC Board.  Apparently Nielsen did not follow this "prior" procedure for their new National TV Ratings?

  3. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, December 28, 2015 at 1:18 p.m.

    @Tony Jarvis: By pre-approval of OCR, I didn't mean to imply the MRC pre-approved accreditation before being granted accreditation, I meant that Nielsen worked with the MRC to accredit OCR before it was turned on as a syndicated ratings product.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 28, 2015 at 1:22 p.m.

    Since I am not a Nielsen subscriber, I could not ask many of my many questions about exactly how this ascription system works or whether it has been validated in any meaningful way. I must, once again, remind one and all that even if MRC accredits the new Nielsen TV rating service in 2016, this does not mean that it is providing the "right" answers, but mainly that Nielsen is following various technical rules and doing more or less what it claims to be doing. Far more fundamental issues, such as whether the various panels are truly representative of the total population or whether it is correct that a "viewer" watches every second of content, unless he/she indicates otherwise, must be left to our imagination, I'm afraid.

  5. Terry Mackin from Remarkable Partners, LLC, December 28, 2015 at 3:17 p.m.

    Wow!  It seems like a simple solution would have been to let the existing system continue with the new panel running on a parallel path as an unacreditted "beta" test.  Unfortunately, the MRC is the only body capable of compelling Nielsen to do anything.  Why did MRC feel it necessary to make such a hasty decision?  There is no question that Nielsen's methodology is outdated to be polite.  This makes me wonder where the total media platform ratings product stands that was projected by Nielsen to be announced by the end of 2015.  It is disappointing to see this type of decision making when "transparency" on a broader scale is such a huge issue facing the ANA and the AAAA's.  Nielsen has underperformed in product R&D due to the fact that they feel no competition.  I feel for the advertisers who have to use antiquated methods to validate audiences.  

  6. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC replied, December 28, 2015 at 3:36 p.m.

    Dear Mr. Jarvis,
    I concur with your desire for due process and diligence.
    I do NOT concur with your request that Mr. Hasker
    become more of an illusionist than he already is.
    Do not encourage him & his putative colleagues
    to turn these rotten apples into a moldy oranges.
    There is nothing worthy of accreditationin this latest
    act of Nielsen methododolical legerdermain.
    When you "validate" media research in which 40%
    of National Viewing impressions are modeled
    (how glamorous!) by the other "Mothers of Invention,"
    then Nielsen's illusion becomes their Clients' delusion.
    Onwards & Upwards!
    Mr. Schiavone 

  7. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC replied, December 28, 2015 at 3:46 p.m.

    Dear Mr. Jarvis:
    I regret the automated misspelling of "methodological"
    that sprang from my iPhone.
    "Methododolical" is the modeled spelling, I guess.
    At least the "method" and "dodo" parts were correct.
    Onwards & Upwards.
    Mr. Schiavone

  8. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC replied, December 28, 2015 at 4:37 p.m.


    Interesting, timely and apt observations.  They are welcome by this reader.  

    In fact, Nielsen has been deluging their poor clients with "parallel data" for some time 

    before today's (12.28.15) transmorgrification of the National Nielsen TV Ratings system.  

    However, at a number of the meetings through 2015, reliable sorces (i.e., clients) 

    say that Nielsen made a point of indicating  that it had no intention of waiting 

    for the Media Rating Council and Ernst & Young to do all the work necessary 

    to conduct a thorough and timely audit and issue an expert assessment for vote.

    But Nielsen's failure in this matter is really a constellation of shortcomings 

    that reminds me of the Constellation Chamaeleon, the color-changing lizard that hides. 

    It's not Nielsen's Methodology that's outdated.  

    It appears to be Nielsen's Commitment to Quality that's expired.  



  9. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC replied, December 28, 2015 at 5:32 p.m.

    "... even if MRC accredits the new Nielsen TV rating service in 2016, this does not mean that it is providing the "right" answers, but mainly that Nielsen is following various technical rules and doing more or less what it claims to be doing." EP

    Of course, it is Ed Papzian who provides the most illuminating perspective on the Nielsen's transmorgrification of its national ratings system.  When Congress mandated the formation of the Media Rating Council (MRC) in 1963, it also urged the formation of the Committee On Nationwide Television Audience Measurement (CONTAM) to understand and to improve television audience measurment nationwide through independent methodological research.  I was CONTAM's last Chairman serving by election of its Members with pride and distinction for 10 years.  Alas, "The Industry" saw fit to let CONTAM die from neglect in 2000.  It seems ready to put the MRC to death by omission or commision in 2016.  Either way, "The Industry" will be guilty of negligence ... really gross neligence.

    Well done, Ed.  Research professional needs to understand the difference between good practice and a basic audit.  If you slap me after threatening to slap me, you you'll pass the basic audit, but your good practice is not so good.  Simple.

    Thank you, Ed.

    All the best!  Nick

  10. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, December 28, 2015 at 11:51 p.m.

    There seems to be a conspiracy of silence around these Nielsen-related isues.
    No word from Nielsen, MRC, Nielsen's Clients or MRC's Members.  Congrats!

    Set aside the MRC, which has become the first casualty of convenience and commerce,
    Nielsen seems to bet on "The Holly and The Ivy" to keep "The Industry" blissfully ignorant.

    So stay merry!  For as William Congreve wrote ...
    "Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure:  
    Married in haste, we may repent at leisure."

  11. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, December 29, 2015 at 12:15 p.m.

    I could not concurr more that the silence from all the major industry organisation that this massive complex issue raises is deafening!  To Terry's point regading transparency and as importantly accountatblity, especially the ANA and the 4As, to which I would respectfully add the ARF.  Hopefully they are crafting major position statements that we will see early in the New Year? 

    However my challenge to Mr. Hasker stands because of the vital importance of formally challenging Nielsen to fully and publically address the industry's concerns and unequivocally commit to the due diligence and process required by the MRC with all speed.  Should Nielsen fail to respond to this public challenge or pursue their usual illusionist tricks, either technical or political, then "we" should formally request that this, "Nielsen methododolical legerdermain" be reviewed and evaluated by the DoJ, under whose auspices the MRC operates, or indeed a Congressional Committee.   Deja vu 1963?

    As Nick stated in an earlier Media Post commentary, "The Nielsen Company is less about measurement quality and more about quality earnings."  If he is correct, and he (and Ed) usually are, the system needed to deliver all Media Ratings in the US is clear at least to those operating internationally where Nielsen and all their competitiors are required to bid on ratings measurement contracts via JICs. 

    Happy New Year everyone!

  12. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, December 29, 2015 at 3:24 p.m.

    Dear Mr. Jarvis ... Tony,
    I think we are coming from essentially the same place on this matter.
    Like the "Too Big To Fail" entities of our lives in 2015/2016,
    Nielsen (and, sadly, the MRC) not only seems unable to admit error, 
    but also seems unwilling to talk to the public.
    Ratings are a matter of "Public Interest, Convenience & Necessity."
    Hence, Nielsen has an obligation to be accurate, not just reliable.
    Nielsen also has an obligation to be accredited and transparent (not invisible),
    so that the Public can be sure Nielsen's TV Ratings Research
    1) meets minimum scientific standards, and
    2) is conducted according to a published statement of certifiable methodology.
    Yesterday marked the end of an era in media research.
    The Free Market that once governed the marketing, media and research industries is no longer fully free, open, competent, competitive, disciplined or principled.
    Law professors can analyze, argue and decide what they will about the Nielsen monopoly.  
    But no one can contend that the present system is the best system for any media research stakeholder except Nielsen.  And the price that the MRC has paid for attempting "to work with Nielsen" is, effectively, to operate as if a gag order had been issued by the vendor and its servant clients.  However, the crowning achievement of this dysfunctional, disingenuous and distorted marketplace, is that the MRC is forced to make an adsurd Christmas Eve pronouncement that the new Nielsen Service that went into effect on Monday (12.28.15) -and is substantially different from its predecessor- is accredited until its not, even though it has not been fully vetted by MRC, E&Y and the Committees & Board of the MRC.  That's just nuts!
    The story ends here because apparently and effectively no one really cares.  Isn't that why we call it show business anyway?  Everything that's done and not done is done for show, not for real substance or solid science.  Knowing that, my hat is off to MediaPost Publications for covering the biggest media research story in television in 50 years: The day Nielsen substituted "modeling" for "tabulating" so that 40% of its reported national viewing data is "made up" by "magic math."  No other news publication had the insight and foresight to report news with impact, news that matters.  Thank you, MediaDailyNews.
    And Tony, keep up the good work.  Alas, from where I sit there's no one and nothing left to care for.  The market has spoken.  Research Quality matters not.  So be it.

  13. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 29, 2015 at 7:03 p.m.

    The truly sad thing about all of this is the aprogressive bdication by the agencies of their time honored policing function regarding media research services. For the past three decades and with increasing effect, the agencies have demanded more and more "data" with less and less concern about whether said data can be gotten in a reasonable and accurate manner. So we now live in the "data era" and having numbers broken down in "granular" fashion trumps any effort to question the findings or the methodologies. That, gentlemen---Tony and Nick---is why nobody---or almost nobody cares. We are hoplesslessly outnumbered and outgunned---but I still say, let's keep up the fight, it's worth the effort.

  14. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 29, 2015 at 7:05 p.m.

    Typo alert: make that "abdication", not "bdication" in the first sentence of my last post. Sigh!

  15. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, December 30, 2015 at 11 p.m.

    Dear Ed,

    Thank you for the acknowledgement, explanation and concurrence.
    It is interesting to note that all commentators, Tony, Terry, You and I
    have called for the the ANA, AAAA & ARF not only to comment but also to engage.

    It appears that to even discuss the role and actions of the Media Rating Council,
    a deservedly respected body that theoretically embraces the technical concerns
    of all stakeholders, is no longer permitted due to incomprehensible legalities.

    But let us not forget that in 2000 it was the four major broadcasters 
    who decimated the only methodological research committee
    mandated by Congress and authorized by the Department of Justice.  
    There is so much blame to go around.

    But as 2016 arrives, we ought not to be about blame, but RESPONSIBILITY.
    In the end, Nielsen must be held fully ACCOUNTABLE for what it does and what it fails to do.

    Just 2 weeks ago, President Obama implored Americans to reject biogotry.
    Tonight, we might implore clients and colleagues in the same way to reject complacency:
    "For however slow, however incomplete, however harshly, loudly,
    rudely challenged at each point along our journey, ... ,
    we can create the change that we seek."  I hope so.

    All the best for 2016, Ed.  We are fortunate to have your wisdom, patience
    and fortitude to give us enough light for the next step.

  16. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, December 31, 2015 at 10:58 a.m.



    If LOCAL VAM is BAD; 

    NATIONAL VAM must be WORSE!?


    Thank you, MRC, for starting 2016 RIGHT!


  17. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, December 31, 2015 at 12:22 p.m.

    To better understand the accreditation status of Nielsen's Measurement Services 

    go to MRC.


    Please see the December 30 and 24 Press Releases first to appreciate the subtleties 

    of the latest MRC deliberations.


    In short, for all National & Local Data Users: 



  18. Cheryl Sternberg from While She's Out LLC, January 3, 2016 at 12:48 p.m.

    Glad to see you're still givin' 'em hell, Tony Jarvis.

Next story loading loading..