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.