TV ad trade group the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) has asked the Media Rating Council (MRC) to suspend Nielsen’s accreditation in response to its claim the research company continues to under-count TV viewing -- as well as under-representing Black and Hispanic homes -- as a result of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In writing to the MRC, the VAB says Nielsen violated at least five minimum standards that are “still creating material negative impact into July 2021.”
For example, it says data from Nielsen’s national TV "in-tab" respondents is down 18% -- 6,833 respondents -- in June 2021 versus February 2020, just before the start of the pandemic. In-tab is the number of households or persons supplying usable information that can be tabulated as part of Nielsen's ratings.
The VAB says this has resulted in lower viewership. It previously said in the first three months of 2021 total weekly-reach TV use dropped dramatically to an 87% average from 92% for all of 2019.
Nielsen’s has a nearly 40,000 national TV household panel and at the start of the pandemic in March, it suspended regular maintenance chores -- field agents who go into homes of its TV panel -- due to pandemic-infection concerns. This past spring Nielsen has said it resumed such tasks.
In April, the VAB said there was a 23% decline in Hispanic TV panel homes; a 28% decline in Black TV panel homes; and a 14% fall in Asian TV panel homes during the pandemic period.
Of the five reasons for asking the MRC for suspending accreditation, the VAB says Nielsen had:
1) an “ineffective continuity plan,” which should have assured business procedure to “continue during natural disaster or business disruption.”
2) Nielsen offered no disclosure to it clients, such as TV networks, media agencies, and no previous independent tests prior to Nielsen’s stopping maintenance.
3) “Quality control procedures were not maintained” by Nielsen for the period in question, from 2020 through 2021.
4) The VAB says Nielsen ratings reports during this period had no required advanced disclosures.
5) Nielsen’s procedures during the pandemic that “led to the doubling (or more) of zero tune-in homes were not based on logical procedures that were consistently applied.”
A Nielson spokesperson responded to TVND: "We are fully committed to returning to pre-COVID operations and are working closely with and through the MRC to address any outstanding issues and requests and are committed to their process concerning accreditation."
While I agree with the VAB that Nielsen handled this whole thing poorly and should have been more open---even to auditing--- this move is a bit over the top to my way of thinking. The VAB is suggesting that advertisers may consider the use of other "currencies" than Nielsen's household and viewer ratings when buying national TV time because of suspected understatement of average commercial minute audiences of around 5% during the pandemic. OK, but hasn't Nielsen been dealing with this problem and aren't "viewing" levels rising to more normal levels? So is the intent to puniish Nielsen this year for last year's errors? Is that a fair appraoch?
And what about the supposed alternatives. These are listed by the VAB as set-top-box ratings, visits to advertised brands' websites and sales results for advertising brands. The set-top-box ratings are based on panels of "pay TV" homes which, as everyone knows do not represent all homes and do not provide viewer information. Does that make sense as a replacement for Nielsen's data? As for visits to websites and brand sales does anyone think that buyers and, especially sellers would accept these are time buying currencies on a massive basis? And what about TV programmers and program producers? Would they evaluate the performance of their shows based on visits to advertiser websites or sales results for advertised brands?
There is one othe ralternative---a national panel---probably much larger than Nielsen's currennt one and more expensive---which would measure viewer attentiveness to commercials. Would the TV networks support and largely fund such a service which shows that Nielsen's current "average commercial minute viewer" estimates overstate actual commercial viewing by at least 100%? Is that in the cards?
So, yes, Nielsen should be more open and forthcoming and it deserves to be spanked---pretty hard----but I think that this move to have the MRC revoke Nielsen's accreditation is like biting the hand that feeds you. There must be a better way.
I wonder whether the VAB has ever heard of the term 'weighting' of a sample/panel?
The industry was using C3 ratings as currency for about 3 years before they were accredited. Most people didn't know, and the rest didn't care.
Interesting double standard we have in our business. Facebook, for one, grades its own homework, admits or gets caught at fudging the numbers, and we just throw more money at them.