Comscore Seizes On Nielsen Debacle, Expedites MRC TV Audit

Comscore has let it be known that it will seek Media Rating Council audits for its national and local television measurement offerings sooner than originally planned.

At Comscore’s request, the target start date for an MRC audit has been moved up from early 2022 to no later than October 15, 2021, the MRC confirmed in a statement.

The MRC, which has had Comscore’s television ratings in an inactive status since 2018, said it has been in discussions about those products since early this year.

The talks are designed to “provide feedback to Comscore in its preparations to resubmit its Comscore TV product into the MRC’s audit and accreditation process,” and the MRC “will work with Comscore in the coming weeks to formalize this request and to finalize an audit plan,” the MRC said.

When an audit commences, the MRC will make a public announcement.

Comscore’s push comes as the MRC considers Nielsen’s request to pause its own national TV service accreditation process, amid heavy fire from the networks over Nielsen’s underreporting of viewing numbers starting with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Kelly Abcarian, NBCUniversal’s executive vice president of measurement and impact, declared that it is time for “measurement independence… We need all our industry’s builders — including Nielsen — to architect an entirely new blueprint.”

NBC sent a request for proposal to more than 50 of its measurement partners — including Nielsen and Comscore — plus Data Plus Math, Conviva, Truthset, VideoAmp and iSpot, regarding future “measurement yardsticks” for marketers in a streaming and addressable advertising world.

Nielsen has acknowledged that its national ratings panel encountered problems starting in March 2020 because COVID prevented its field agents from entering Nielsen panel homes to conduct regular maintenance.

The Video Advertising Bureau said this resulted in dramatically lower total weekly-reach TV use, and major viewership declines.

The MRC, which noted that Nielsen’s National Television Service has had “some deep-rooted, ongoing performance issues that have threatened its accreditation — many of which pre-dated the well-documented Covid pandemic related impacts to its panels,” could approve Nielsen’s request for a temporary suspension of the audit process for up to six months (with an option for a six-month extension), or deny the company accreditation.

In addition to addressing issues with its panel, Nielsen has said it wants time to focus on developing its One service for cross-platform measurement.

8 comments about "Comscore Seizes On Nielsen Debacle, Expedites MRC TV Audit".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 25, 2021 at 12:10 p.m.

    Karlene, I think that the headline's use of the word "debacle" regarding Nielsen's recent misfortunes is rather over dramatic. Yes, Nielsen made a mistake which caused a relatively small "undercount" of 18-49-year old viewing---the supposed key "currency"metric still in wide use---along with its sister "demo", adults aged 25-54---- of, maybe, 2-5%. And Nielsen handled the situation badly. Also, I wish Comscore and the 49 other research companies that may answer NBC's call for alternatives the best of luck---as they will probably need it. But the chances of Nielsen being unseated as TV's major rating service are slim indeed---and everyone from the "linear " side---if not the digital side----knows it.

    At best, some of the proposed alternatives may be used on a selective basis as add-ons to Nielsen data while Nielsen moves in it's own, cautious, way towards suppplying what is wanted. Which could be a good thing as new types of information may awaken CMOs to the fact that they are missing some important new ways to target consumers----if only they would pay serious attention to the "media" function.

  2. Benny Radjasa from Armonix Digital, Inc. replied, August 25, 2021 at 3:05 p.m.

    Neilsen's misfortune is indeed recent, and, if this is a new issue that is fixed immediately, well I would consider the industry reaction as dramatic.  However, for years, Nielsen has been criticized for providing inaccurate data, as reported here:,looks%20to%20lay%20the%20groundwork.

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 25, 2021 at 3:30 p.m.

    Benny, Nielsen has not been criticized "for years" for producing "inaccurate" ratings. What the TV networks have wanted was for Nielsen to include digital audiences in its ratings so the networks could claim all of their "viewers" and charge for them. Nobody has maintained that Nielsen's "linear TV" ratings were all wrong. Even the recent upset about Nielsen's failure to keep in touch with all of its panel members has never caused anyone to seriously question whether Nielsen was substantially wrong about which shows ---or channels---were "winning" or "losing"---which is the key determinant of who gets the most ad revenues. The complaint---and a vaild one---was about the size of  the audience which should have been slightly higher than was projected  and reported.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research replied, August 25, 2021 at 7:32 p.m.

    Ed, you use the term "undercount".   There are two possible uses of that word in this case.

    The "undercount" could be the actual panel size (within each demographic), or it could be the reported rating being described as an 'undercount'.

    If the 'undercount' is referring to the panel size then theoretically it should have minimal effect (i.e. increased Std. Error meaning more variance) as the weighting factors would be increased to project to the TV 'universe'.   However, there could be extra volatility introduced because the households that couldn't be accessed may have been higher in particular cohorts rather than being normally distributed, if so, there could be a disproportionate impact on some demos, though if HH size and composition is a weighting factor it would likely be minimal.

    So, does anyone know what VAB's "undercount" actually refers to?

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 25, 2021 at 7:43 p.m.

    John, the actual claim, as I understand it, is that Nielsen believed that some homes that had been vacated by their  residents and, accordingly, were reporting no viewing, were still operational, meaning that the system assumed that their residents had not left and were simply not watching TV. In reality, such homes are normally dropped out of the panel for tabulating purposes and not counted as non-viewing households. I assume that this kind of thing may also have applied in other situations where the fieldmen weren't checking---like a breakdown of the peoplemeter system, broken but unrepaired sets,etc. but the VAB hasn't mentioned these as far as I know. In theory, if a home is vacated by its residents---due to the pandemic, for example--- and they move to another home, the people meter system should pick up any viewing they do in their new abode as they would be measured as "visitors". This is a murky area, however ,as we don't know what the compliance rate for "visitor" viewing is in Nielsen's system. I would guess that it's pretty low.

  6. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp replied, August 30, 2021 at 3:19 p.m.

    (I might have answered sooner, but have nbeen on vacation. Grono, that's holiday to you.)

    Ed, John, here is my hypothesis. It may explain part of the "undercount," or not. But at VideoAmp we saw (as one would expect) TV viewing RISE during quarantine, not decline.

    As I've been telling people, for the first three months of quarantine last year, we wouldn't let the plummer in. I can't imagine anyone letting in the meter tech. Now, back when I worked on meter samples as a boy at Arbitron, we knew that it was larger households-- with more people and sets, and thus more hardware-- that failed more often. I.e. assume a correlation between number of measurement company devices in the HH, and the need for onsite visits.

    So my guess is that larger HHs,, which watch more TV than smaler ones, fell out of sample at a higher rate than others (as is generally the case) but could not be serviced (which is NOT generally the case). Thus over time Nielsen ended up with an in-tab panel comprised a priori of lower-viewing HHs, with no way to remedy the situation. 

    And Ed-- while I have you-- as far as your assessment of Nielsen's chances of being replaced, I believe you are wrong. 

    The reason for this is, we KNOW they will be replaced. Let me explain.

    Nielsen One represents a majpor discontinuous break from the legacy Nielsen product line. I've worked at a couple of companies that competed with Nielsen; I know from experience it is difficult to compete with the benfit of incumbency. But now, Nielsen is also competing with the incumbent (even if it is themselves.) This is a new and different dynamic, and the media companies and agencies know it. The currency will ABSOLUTELY change soon, and NBCU and their peers and their customers realize this. Thus the possibility exists in a different way than before that the marketplace aligns around one or even a few different currency solutions-- either instead of, or in addition to, Nielsen. 

    Put another way-- to the extent that awitching costs argue for stability in provider of currency, now switching costs are incurred even if you don't switch providers. That is a major leveler of the playing field. So, ratings users might as well take their time, kick everyone's tires, and make the best choice.

  7. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 30, 2021 at 4:43 p.m.

    Josh, as you know I have often pointed out that even with its "linear TV" measurements Nielsen's "average commercial minute viewer" projections convey a very misleading and inflated "count" of commercial audiences. I  should add that Nielsen was pressured into this by the buying side to account for commercial zapping and, at the time, that the agencies didn't seem to be concerned about the validity of the "viewing" data---which was assumed but not measured. In short, Nielsen's people meter panel has been asked to do what it was never designed to do, namely to provide granular "viewing" estimates.

    That said, there is a huge distinction between the audience profile of TV that you derive from set usage  versus viewing indicators. Because younger, larger  and affluent homes contain many more people than older/low brow homes --as well as more devices----set usage tabulations create  an ad seller's dream of a medium which is used far more often by younger/affluent homes than older/low brow homes. However, the exact opposite finding emerges when you ask people in the same homes if they were "watching" when a set is  on and a channel selected. This is why.  The average resident in a younger home watches perhaps 35- 40% of the content that is accessed by any household member; the average oldster is almost always there.   My point is simply this, the alternatives are almost universally device----not viewer---based, in contrast to Nielsen which gets both types of information. Until this huge gap is remedied Nielsen is in the drivers seat.

  8. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp replied, August 30, 2021 at 5:14 p.m.

    Ed, I'm wary of spilling too many of the beans-- but while my understanding of Nielsen Onw is that it introduces a ton of device measurement onto the system. Whereas many companies (like the one I'm blessed to work for) are fast-tracking persons measurement solutions. 

    it's an exciting time to be working in cross-platform video measurement. In three years, I dare say the space will look vastly different. 

    Always a pleasure, Ed. 

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