VAB Estimates Nielsen Undercounting Equals $700M Ad Spending Loss

Following Nielsen's acknowledgement in December that it had undercounted out-of-home viewing, the VAB calculates that some $700 million in TV advertising revenues was lost.

“We now know that error is tracking toward 60 billion lost TV impressions and $700 million worth of TV ads that marketers couldn’t buy because of Nielsen’s second admitted case of 2020-2021 pervasive undercounting,” said Sean Cunningham, president-CEO of national TV advertising trade group  VAB, in a release.

Cunningham was referencing a 16-month period from Sept. 2020 through December 2021.

In late December 2021, Nielsen acknowledged that an error over 16 months caused it to undercount out-of-home TV audiences. At the time, it said the misstep had “no impact to most telecasts” except for some live sports events.



In an analysis of an eight-month period -- April 26, 2021 to December 21, 2021 -- the VAB says over $350 million in TV advertising “could not be bought.” This came from almost 30 billion in ad impressions undercounted.

The VAB says 33 networks were affected, which in total undercounted 3.7 billion impressions per month, 1 billion of which was in primetime, on average. It said over 10.5 billion 18-34 ad impressions disappeared between May-December 2021.

Some of the biggest TV shows affected by the undercounting were sports -- especially NFL Sunday football on NBC, CBS and Fox. Other sports programming was also impacted. Fox and CBS Sunday NFL telecasts each had a 2.3% under-counting of impressions over the eight-month period the VAB analyzed. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” lost 1.4%.

Non-sports shows during the period affected included “The Bachelorette” on ABC, “60 Minutes” on CBS, “The Masked Singer” on Fox and “Saturday Night Live” on NBC.

Over the eight-month period, an average monthly impressions for 12.2 billion persons 2+ were undercounted for entertainment programming (representing 0.6% of monthly average lift for OOH viewing); 5.3 billion for news programming (0.8% monthly lift); and 7.2 billion for sports (1.8% monthly lift).

A statement from Nielsen to Television News Daily said: "We reviewed the information shared by the VAB today, and while we acknowledge the understatement in a portion of our national out-of-home audiences, we stand by our prior statements that the magnitude of the issue was very small for the majority of telecasts."

This story has been updated.

2 comments about "VAB Estimates Nielsen Undercounting Equals $700M Ad Spending Loss".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 26, 2022 at 3:40 p.m.

    Wayne, the way that OOH "viewing" is measured by the ex Arbitron PPMs that Nielsen uses is not a measurement of "viewing" at all. The PPM panel member wears or carries a device that can "hear" audio signals embedded in program and commercial content---if the sound is not muted. The panel member is not asked if he/she is "watching". It is simply assumed that this is so---including the commercials. Any advertiser who takes such "measurements" seriously  and pays top dollar for such "impressions" is very badly in need of professional media advice. Most of the OOH "viewers" of TV sports may be watching the actual contests with some degree of attentiveness---but do we really think that this applies to the commercials---like in a crowded bar, for example?

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, January 27, 2022 at 7:16 p.m.

    Ed, thank you for being the voice of reason.

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