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.”