You Really Can Fool Some Of The People All Of The Time: Nielsen's $16B Sellout

With all due respect to Jesse Cohn, managing partner and Marc Steinberg, senior portfolio manager on behalf of Evergreen Coast Capital and Elliott Investment Management, Nielsen will not "continue to be the gold standard for audience measurement.”

It is not now. It has not been for decades. From the perspective of Ed Papazian: "The fact remains that we have never had a 'gold standard' for determining how many people 'watch' TV shows at any moment in time."  (That said, as the final chairman of the Committee on National Television Audience Measurement [CONTAM, 1989-1999], I commissioned Statistical Research Inc.'s “benchmark” coincidentals to evaluate Nielsen.  

Such surveys are impractical for continuous measurement, and essentially impossible in 2022, given electronic media consumption and cellular telephone technology.

Over the past century, Nielsen's fluctuating ownership has resulted in financial accretion and concomitant research-quality decretion.  



The Dun & Bradstreet acquisition of A.C. Nielsen Co. in 1983 marks the beginning of a steady slide that accelerated after the introduction of the so-called People Meter Measurement in 1987.

It is important to note that the People Meter methodology was not, per se, "bad." Nielsen's sloppy, secretive and self-serving implementation was always the culprit.  

It is also important to recognize that Nielsen never actually measured viewing, as such behavior is subjective.  

Can there be an objective measurement of a subjective behavior? Technically, the most Nielsen can determine is whether a TV set is on or off, what channel it is tuned to, and possibly whether panel members are in the "TV room" when the set is on.  

Is anyone viewing? Is anyone paying attention? Who knows? And that's the TV audience-measurement fantasy.

But what about something new and better -- one cross-media "solution" that will fabricate an incomprehensible array of metrics across platforms?

Well, it's called Nielsen One, and its rollout begins in the fourth quarter. 

If I understand Ed Papazian, what the industry is likely to get -- at least in part -- is a "Big Data” TV rating service ... basically a cobbled together stew of smart set and set-top-box panel device usage, involving millions of homes - which will be turned into commercial-specific "viewing" data – assume by some sort of viewer-per-set calculations derived from that relatively small number of homes with people meter button-pressing gadgets.”  

Well, that's a relief! The resulting data are likely to be inflated, delighting both media clients and Nielsen.

Who cares about the advertisers? They have not lifted a finger in decades to underwrite methodological research or audience measurement.

Once again, Ed Papazian: “There's an old adage – ‘You get what you pay for.’ - and in TV that's exactly what the advertisers will be getting - not much.”

Evergreen Coast Capital Corporation, Brookfield Business Partners L.P., and their institutional partners hardly possess the necessary talent and skill to understand the methodological research and electronic media marketing challenges they have just assumed.

Can they explain, for example, what it means to be without MRC (Media Rating Council) Accreditation or an E&Y Audit?  

Currency without a benchmark for any stakeholder in the $100 billion video advertising “ecosystem!”

Given the price just paid for Nielsen, and the fact that it is about to become a private company, one thing is certain about the new Nielsen -- and it's got nothing to do with quality.  

Media company CEOs need to pay attention, if Advertisers won't.  

The terms and conditions in Nielsen Contracts -- so-called Agreements -- are likely to be headed nowhere good.  

In this commentator's mind, based on history, Nielsen will negotiate as if it were a natural monopoly. Even knowledgeable clients will be forced to accept financial terms and operating conditions before the product is defined, quality is guaranteed and remedies are established.

In effect, Clients will become more trapped -- the prisoners and hostages of Nielsen. There will be no equitable measurement deals.

The media and marketing industries can hope all they want. They can be "rooting hard" for long overdue changes.

But here is the bottom line: Nielsen is handsomely paid for what it does and does not do!

It's time for clients to assume responsibility for measurement. AGAIN.

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