VAB Asks Nielsen To Submit To Immediate MRC Audit

With the upfront advertising market set to begin in a few weeks, the VAB, the TV network advertising trade group, sent a letter to Nielsen asking it to submit to an immediate audit of its practices -- which includes “under-counting” of viewership and lack of “maintenance” of Nielsen TV panel homes during the COVID-19 pandemic period.

This follows a press conference held last week by the VAB, outlining many Nielsen issues concerning its TV network viewing data.

Writes Sean Cunningham, president-CEO of the VAB, to David Kenny, CEO of Nielsen on April 14:

“The VAB is calling on Nielsen to participate in an independent third-party audit, to conduct an immediate audit with MRC [Media Rating Council] auditor’s Ernst & Young, to provide a full disclosure of Nielsen’s audit on the 9,400 homes it intends to resume maintenance.”



Nielsen suspended maintenance on much of its total 40,000 TV panel during the pandemic period of March 2020 through March 2021. Nielsen said it has resumed maintenance efforts.

Cunningham then lists a number of issues the audit would help address, including “inaccuracy or under-counting” of viewers in the March 2020 through March 2021 period.

The audit would also help explain why there was a 20% loss of Nielsen TV households panel, and why the number of “zero TV homes” -- those which showed no TV viewing whatsoever -- grew by 3.1 percentage points in the period.

Cunningham also requests a full overview of challenges concerning “diverse communities” on the panel -- Black, Hispanic and Asian homes, as well as viewers under 35.

In addition, he calls for a “set of market-facing numerical adjustment factors” to be applied to usage and measurement to correct the under-counting of TV viewers. Over the past 12 months, TV network viewing has declined more sharply than in previous years, taking on steeper double-digit percentage declines.

“The timely intervention of a third-party, independent auditor can act as a fair arbiter in assessing the accuracy of Nielsen’s Covid period TV ratings currency data,” says Cunningham.

In picking MRC’s auditor Ernst & Young, the VAB says it “identified a highly appropriate, impartial and extremely well-qualified independent auditor from a small pool of candidates.” The Media Rating Council is a nonprofit organization that manages accreditation for media research and rating companies.

The VAB asks for a response from Nielsen by April 19. In its letter, the VAB points to immediate action, as the $20 billion TV upfront advertising marketplace is set to begin in a few weeks (see related story).

Nielsen responded to Television News Daily with this statement: “Nielsen is committed to providing reliable and accurate data to the media industry. We received VAB's letter, and we are in the process of evaluating our next steps.” 

3 comments about "VAB Asks Nielsen To Submit To Immediate MRC Audit".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 16, 2021 at 11:55 a.m.

    What's surprising about this is that last year Nielsen was releasing reports, itself, based on its local market surveys in the top 25 DMAs, that showed huge increases in SVOD and CTV activity but also, at a lower level, for "linear TV" during the daytime hours ( 9AM-4PM ). Yet, it allowed national peoplemeter data to be distributed to clients which showed less, not more  all -daypart viewing than at the same point the preceding year. Makes one wonder if the national folks were even aware of the seeming contradiction with the local data and whether anyone was concerned about it.

    My long experience with Nielsen---a mainly positive one---- makes me think that this is an isolated, yet disturbing incident and that, now alerted, even if belatedly, to the problems both in panel management and its own, internal issues, that Nielsen will promptly move in the right direction, make whatever changes are needed and, I hope, be very transparant about it. An independent audit would probably be a good first step.

  2. Jonathan Sims from Jsims Analytics, April 16, 2021 at 12:55 p.m.

    Perhaps one analysis is for Nieslen to unify its sample thereby comparing usage amongst only those homes that have been in-tab for the period in question, as well as during a baseline period of time. Nielsen could then discern whether or not these unified homes also show a signifcant decline in usage.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 16, 2021 at 3:53 p.m.

    Jonathan, I think that Nielsen would lose a lot of homes in terms of being in-tab if it tried to  analyze  those panel members that supplied complete data---say for a month---in both March-April 2020 and the same time in 2019. Just guessing, but this might cut the base down to only 10,000 and who knows if such a subsample is representative of the whole panel---even if it shows an increase in viewing, not a slight decline. The idea to look at "internal data" is a good one and were I  Nielsen, I'd be reviewing my meter panel local market surveys. What do they show in terms of trends in HUT and PUT over time?

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