The answer depends on what you believe the role of the MRC actually is.
Or at least, what it’s supposed to be.
“Four months ago, this acronym was born,” Michael Kassan said as he opened the U.S. “JIC’s” first-ever upfront event in New York City Thursday, hours after both Nielsen and Comscore issued statements endorsing and supporting the MRC’s historic role accrediting U.S. advertising-market currencies.
That’s a lot to unpack, so let me begin with the first part -- why some powerful people in the advertising and media industry think the JIC acronym was born only four months ago.
I don’t know when that acronym was actually born, but the first time I heard the term JIC was around three decades ago, when I was media editor of Advertising Age covering the advertising marketplace, including things like Nielsen ratings that influence billions in spending.
It was also a time when much of the industry was unhappy with Nielsen’s virtual monopoly of the TV ad market’s currency, and many were frustrated with its lack of methodological progress, and why none of the well-backed alternatives -- AGB, Arbitron, Percy, etc. -- could ever successfully mount competition.
That’s the first time I remember people in the U.S. suggest creating a JIC, or joint industry committee, similar to the ones that have operated effectively for years in much of the rest of the developed advertising world.
While the nature and governance of those JICs may vary, they were all born by all sides of the marketplace -- advertisers and agencies and the media they do business with -- to define the specs and source the supplier of the currency they wanted to do business with.
I remember thinking -- after more than a decade of covering failed startup rivals to Nielsen -- that the concept seemed to make a lot of sense, would fix many of the problems vexing the U.S. ad marketplace, and wondering why hadn't I ever heard of it before.
It was years later -- when the late Gale Metzger launched the SMART ratings initiative in the late 1990s -- that I began reporting about informal industry discussions to launch a U.S. JIC only, and ultimately, that Nielsen’s management threatened to sue its own clients on antitrust grounds if they did.
A model for the JIC, as well as Nielsen’s threat, was ultimately evaluated by the Advertising Research Foundation, which in those days played a more explicit role in setting ad industry policy for such things and it determined Nielsen had a case, and the JIC never moved forward.
Later, I learned from sources that NBC had asked lawyers for then-parent General Electric to look into it and that they determined Nielsen would not have an antitrust case.
The notion that an industry forming a joint committee to create competition might be considered antitrust in the U.S. continues to blow my mind, but it is one of many things that blow my mind about the way the U.S. operates differently from other parts of the world.
Anyway, that was the last time I wrote about efforts to form a U.S. JIC. Until four months ago, when OpenAP -- an entity founded by the largest TV networks in the U.S. – announced it had formed one and published its initial guidelines.
That’s one of the reasons I've been putting quotation marks around “JIC” whenever I refer to this new version of a JIC.
Another is the fact that it doesn’t actually operate the way JICs do in other parts of the world.
Instead of working jointly as an industry to figure out the best way to measure advertising currency and then finding the best source to provide it, the U.S. “JIC” was created to “certify” multiple currencies developed by multiple independent suppliers, including new competitors for Nielsen.
The formation of the “JIC” followed a year in which some of OpenAP’s owners had already certified new “alternative” currencies on their own, including iSpot and VideoAmp.
I’ve been writing critically about the ad industry's embrace of a supply-side certification model ever since, but based on OpenAP's progress in building an industry consensus over the past four months, I have to give it credit and going forward will stop putting quotes around their version of the acronym.
If this is how the U.S. wants its JIC to roll, who am I to say?
And who knows, we might even consider OpenAP as our 2023 supplier of the year based on the same rationale we used to select NBCU last year: moving the needles and convincing the demand-side to move along with it.
I tried explaining this to one of the most knowledgeable sources I know about JICs around the world, Olympic Consulting’s, and occasional MediaPost op-ed writer Tony Jarvis -- and I thought he was going to blow a circuit.
Jarvis is convinced the networks have been backing OpenAP’s JIC model for one reason -- their bottom lines -- creating competition to drive down the cost of audience measurement.
I told him I think he’s only half right -- the bottom-line part -- and that the real reason isn’t just controlling costs, but the networks see greater upside by disrupting what has been a common currency for the U.S. ad marketplace, and backing ones they believe will generate a better yield on their ad sales.
Nothing wrong with that, of course.
It’s a free market, right?
Until it isn’t.
I guess the main thing I don’t understand is the industry’s willingness to disrupt what has been an incredibly fragile self-regulatory status quo that has existed since at least the last time the MRC appeared before Congress nearly two decades ago.
I think the biggest problem I have with this new U.S. JIC isn't its supply-side market agenda, but that it simply will create more confusion in what already is a very confusing marketplace.
And by that, I don’t just mean the idea of having multiple, concurrent, “certified” currencies operating side-by-side.
I think the biggest problem is that it is creating unnecessary confusion about what the role of the MRC is.
I know some of our more sophisticated readers probably understand the difference between a JIC’s “certification” and the MRC’s “accreditation,” but in terms of the broader industry consensus, aren’t they both just stamps of approval?
And if you ask me, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to the U.S. ad industry for someone to actually weaponize the role of the MRC in order to make sure a joint industry consensus actually understands the difference.
Interesting piece, Joe. I was there---and sometimes directly involved--when most of the previous attempts to unseat Nielsen as our exclusive supplier of national TV ratings were launched. It should also be noted that Gale Metzger's SMART initiative was funded to the tune of $30 million by the broadcast TV networks.
As it developed, Gale got lots of encouragement from the networks as well as the agencies and some major TV advertisers and this lead him to turn to these sources to fund the launch of a rival people meter rating service. I know as one of my duties as a consultant on this project was to deveolp a rate card for agencies, advertisers and TV time sellers.
The problem as I had seen it with previous efforts by Arbitron and others was that none of these would be competitors to Nielsen made any effort to disprove Nielsen's findings. Instead some sold based on lower prices, others on small refinements in the methodology, new ways to report the data, timelier data, etc. ---none of which were crucial points of departure. In many cases , if its customers really wanted such improvements--and would pay a small amount to obtain them, Nielsen would gladly have complied. Moreover, Nielsen had both the staffing and the vast experience required to manage a national rating service and assure that the ratings were deleiverd as promised. But the newbies had no such experience and there was always the danger that something might go wrong or the"spice" wouldn't flow as readily as desired.
As a result, even if SMART had obtained sufficient funding to launch ---mainly from the TV networks--- the networks would have had to continue with Nielsen----and use Nielsen----with SMART operating as a parallel source whose findings and its growing expertise in maintaining the new service could be evaluated. ---though not, necessarily as a buying -selling currency. This prospect was not a pleasnt one for the networks who, at that time were having serious profit problems and certainly the agencies didn't wish to confuse the issue by using two currencies. As for those big TV advertisers who were so encouraging---they were no shows when it came to funding as well as dictating that their agencies should drop Nielsen and buy SMART. Might Nielsen sue them?
As for the current situation, I see it as a replay from the old playbook for the sellers ---which I can't blame them for attempting.Also, they want to use the so-called "alternative currencies" as qualitative add-ons with advertiser targets of opportunity on a highly selective bsis---again, I can't fault them on this sales promotional slant. That's what they do---sell time. Anthing that gets one seller more business---or higher CPMs---is a good thing. So why subject these "alternative currencies" to the MRC'svery sound but strict scrutiny---which many may fail? It all ties together in my mind.
Joe, some additions and corrections.
I do not disagree that the current M-CCC is causing significant confusion in the trading/planning/selling TV/Video marketplace although in-depth re-assessments of media research and measurement techniques, approaches and viable technologies are always worthwhile. So a grateful thanks from that perspective to the major networks.
Hi! We've been running a formal JIC out of the US for the past 3 years. When TAG and JICWEBS (UK-based, thus the JIC term) merged we continued the formal processes of running a JIC. As far as I can tell, a JIC is only a JIC if it has some semblance of governmental support, otherwise it's just an industry self regulatory body.
That being said, I don't think the terms or (informal) definitions make any difference. If the industry can join together to solve these challenges it will be invaluable.
Michael, none of our JIC's in Australia have governmental support. The JICs are primarily financed by the media owners, supported by subscribing media agencies and a sprinkle of advertisers etc. They key though is that we all get a seat at the JIC. We don't always agree but we inevitably reach a workable solution.
Michael, to John's observation I have not identified partial government funding as a JIC cornerstone via my international colleagues but clearly it is a potential parameter. Appreciate the alert and your point is well taken regarding the value in achieving a consensus agreement via an industry consortium on a currency. Far from easy. And I did say "a currency" - singular! Plus the currecny basis and its defintion and derivation are crucial, n'est pas?
Good conversation. I should have been more specific in my original post. We don't receive any government funding. We are 100% industry funded via our 750+ member companies. What I meant was that the government has essentially asked the industry to self regulate and provided some tacit support. This has been my experience with multiple JICs in Europe and APAC.
Michael, appreciate the correction. As you may know the Media Ratinig Council, MRC, here accredites most major media research studies to the Standards or Guidelines it establishes. Somewhat similar to RSMB's role in the UK I understand. However, MRC, does not execute nor determine the basis of any media currency just ensures the final results meets its minimum required research/data quality at a highly detailed level usually by the E&Y special team in Tampa, Forida.
Interestingly MRC was established as a non-profit, multi-partite industry body as a result of serious Government concerns with the TV ratings being "suspect" as a result of "interference" and has grown and evolved from there. It does not receive any Government funding, has the worst business/funding model imaginable as admitted by its Executive Director and still comes under the auspices of the Department of Justice.