Recently, Nielsen Media Research voluntarily put the Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation of its Nielsen National Television ratings service on hiatus until further notice.
This move followed a review instigated by the sell-side that found viewers were undercounted in February by as much as 6% for 18-49 viewers, as well as reports by the MRC itself in May of this year that Nielsen had underreported adult 18-49 TV usage by 2-6%.
To circumvent a likely suspension of accreditation by the MRC, on August 11, Nielsen announced it was putting accreditation on “hiatus” in order to focus on recovering panel strength and developing the Nielsen One cross-measurement solution expected to launch in Q4 of 2022.
What Does This Mean for Advertisers Today?
Not much. Buys on the air now (2020-2021 upfronts) and going to order (2021-2022 upfronts) were negotiated and guaranteed on Nielsen by both buyers and sellers -- with no contractual caveats related to panel stability, etc.
However, linear TV ratings have declined significantly during the past several years, and the trend accelerated due to COVID-19.
So who can blame the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) and sell-side for doing its best to cast doubt and protect revenue?
Advertisers must respond with equal vigor to protect their investments and hold partners accountable to the deals that were made.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
A measurement service does not need to be MRC accredited to be the currency of a transaction. Billions of dollars for decades were transacted on Nielsen Local TV Diary measurement that was not accredited.
Alternative and up-and-coming measurement services also lack MRC accreditation, but are still used as the basis for performance guarantees.
The degree of Nielsen under-reporting for any particular advertiser’s schedule, flight dates, list of networks, and guarantee demographic cannot be validated and will likely remain unknown. There is no alternative calculation that can be used to settle accounts, and seller reporting should not be an option.
The audience projections for these deals were likely provided by these sellers who now want to criticize the basis for them as count of record. (Much to MMi dismay, the buy-side too often accepts inflated seller projections that maximize the cost per unit yield for the networks but leaves Advertisers chasing impressions liabilities for years after the dollars are committed and invoices have been paid.)
The availability of additional audience via owned streaming platforms and a very hot scatter market may mean that sellers are finally trying to get this under control, but this remains to be seen.
The MRC membership is paid, and it is largely comprised of sell-side researchers. Furthermore, the networks are Nielsen’s largest customers. Understand this dynamic.
Both Nielsen and the MRC are under intense pressure from both sides of the media transaction. One anonymous ad executive quoted by AdExchanger last week pointed out the interesting timing of this announcement as after 2021-2022 upfront negotiations were completed.
What Does This Mean for Advertisers Tomorrow?
Good news. Doubts on a single-source-of-truth provider elevate all parties and accelerate alternatives. Tools being used for attribution or planning might evolve to a primary currency of transaction and provide better advertiser outcomes.
The extent to which networks will provide guarantees on custom currencies remains to be seen, despite all of the industry dialogue on the topic and the recent Nielsen challenges.
Many of these options require sharing of first-party data, which is neither collected nor managed with the purpose of statistical reliability, nor open to the same level of transparency and scrutiny as Nielsen is today (by either advertisers or networks).
A few recommendations moving forward
Continue to use Nielsen data for its strengths as third-party measurement across a breadth and depth of media properties, and statistical balance of its panels for all demographics and content-delivery technologies including minorities and non-streaming homes.
Keep an open and ongoing dialogue with all media partners on custom currency and guarantee opportunities. Establish best practices with vendor contracts that explicitly document how each deal will be measured for fulfillment and include reference to data ownership and visibility where applicable.
For buys that have already been placed utilizing Nielsen as currency (or for buys that are yet to be placed using Nielsen as currency), scrutinize and play an active role in discussions regarding accountability or any proposed changes to delivery expectations that are initiated by sellers after the fact.
This entire dynamic becomes a point of negotiation, not a forgone conclusion, and advertisers and their agencies should leverage their considerable clout to ensure that they receive what they paid for.
In other words, insist that your agency develop their own delivery estimates, not just accept the vendors’.
Evaluate alternative measurement tools as long as they allow for transparent, independent, third-party verification. “Black box” solutions from sellers give them the flexibility to maximize yields, but they need to provide enough transparency and accountability to demonstrate value to the advertiser and establish a comfort level for both parties that they are legitimate and equitable.
Since the early days of advertising, there has been a symbiotic relationship between brands and publishers. Third-party research like Nielsen keeps the media ecosystem mutually beneficial.
Out of challenging times come growth and invention, and we look forward to watching the next generation of measurement solutions unfold.