MRC's Ivie On Nielsen's Big Data Shift: 'We're Standing Down'

After some fits and false-starts, Nielsen this week announced it is finally releasing its next-general TV audience measurement methodology modeling Big Data to boost the representation of telecasts that previously were unable to generate a rating based only on its 40,000 household sample.

The move is not without some controversy, because anytime Nielsen reboots its methodology in a significant way, there are winners and losers in terms of the share of audience – and presumably, advertising dollars – resulting from it.

It’s probably worth recalling that when Nielsen made its last big fundamental methodological shift to people meters in the late 1980s, the major TV networks estimated they lost as much as $50 million in advertising revenue that year because of it. And that was in 1980s TV ad dollars, and it was in a considerably smaller supply chain of TV advertising sellers.



And while at least one trade publication reported earlier this week that Nielsen was releasing the data “for trading” purposes (actually, Ad Age stated that seven times in its story), Nielsen execs say they are releasing it for “measurement” purposes, whatever that means.

“Nielsen still endorses its panel-only national figures as currency, but buyers/sellers do have the option if they choose to utilize the [big] data-included numbers for transactions,” a Nielsen spokesman confirmed to MediaPost.

In fact, Nielsen Chief Data and Research Officer Pete Doe used the word “measurement” 21 times in his blog post announcing the move. He did not use the words “trading” or “transactions – or for that matter, “buying,” “selling,” “currency,” etc. – once.

But people can read through the lines, I guess, which is why I asked Media Rating Council (MRC) CEO and Executive Director George Ivie if he could help clarify what the move actually means, especially since the MRC has been going through a rigorous audit of Nielsen’s new methodology and its audit committee is holding meeting to review it and vote on wether to continue accrediting Nielsen’s national TV ratings based on it.

The audit committee met for its first meeting Thursday, and will hold a second meeting in a few weeks to vote, and so far, mum’s the word on where it is leaning.

That said, the MRC has been working closely with Nielsen – as it does with any audience measurement provider being audited – to make sure it complies with its standard and is, as Ivie says, “fit for purpose.”

During our interview, Ivie said the MRC has taken the unusual position of “standing down” on whether to take a position on Nielsen’s – or more accurately, the marketplace’s – decision to utilize the new data for “commercialization” purposes before the audit committee has a chance to review Nielsen’s compliance, because the benefits the new data has for long-tail and minority TV sellers that have not been able to generate reportable ratings via Nielsen’s panel-only measurement, may outweigh the methodological risks for now.

“What I’ve agreed to do, is really stand down,” Ivie says, explaining that he doesn’t want the MRC to get “in the middle of the tension between smaller viewing outlets and bigger viewing outlets,” because it wouldn’t be fair.

“Sometimes I go to Nielsen and say, ‘We’ve got to complete this audit and we have to get it in front of the committee before there’s any commercial use of this,” Ivie explains, adding, “I don’t feel comfortable throwing the MRC in the middle of all of that and prohibiting the move forward when there is a substantial benefit. Big Data reduces something like 99% of zero-rated time periods. Ninety-nine percent. It adds some stability to the data.”

For now. Ultimately, the MRC’s audit committee will vote and decide whether the shift to Big Data is in compliance with its standards and whether to continue accrediting Nielsen’s national TV ratings based on that.

“We don’t design Nielsen’s methodology. That’s not our job,” Ivie explained, adding, “We assess if it’s in compliance with our standards. We audit them and if they’re not in compliance with our standards, we don’t accredit them.

“We only have one hammer. We write standards and audit. That’s all we do.”

4 comments about "MRC's Ivie On Nielsen's Big Data Shift: 'We're Standing Down'".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 1, 2023 at 12:09 p.m.

    Gulp! So now we are finding ourselves in a sitution where there will be two different sets of Nielsen rating "currencies" and buyers and sellers can choose which ever they please---which means that the sellers will almost always go with the Nielsen ratings that give them the largest number of "impresions"----not to be confused with commercial viewers as that isn't being measured. This is a far cry from 1987 when, after testing the methodology, Nielsen switched to the people meter. Then everyone went along.But now?

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 1, 2023 at 12:43 p.m.

    What I suspect will happen ---probably by Nielsen's design----will be a forced decision by the major sellers to accept the new, "big data", version of Nielsen as the standard rating currency, after which Nielsen will provide only one set of data to the industry---its new data---on a take it or leave it basis. Whether they like it or not, most will take it. Otherwise there will be chaos. Stay tuned.

  3. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, September 2, 2023 at 11:04 a.m.

    Ed:  Surely with all the moves toward  "alternative currencies" for TV/video (alternative currencies being completely contrary to the well estaished values of single currency for any JIC for any medium!), the US is already in chaos? 

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 2, 2023 at 11:59 a.m.

    Tony, there's been a lot of posturing and bluffing regarding audience "currencies" but I think that now that Nielsen is forcing the issue by saying users can pick which ever Nielsen ratings they want that wiser heads on both the seller and buyer side will call a halt to the games they have been playing and adopt a more realistic single currency approach as it is essential to avoid chaos. Barring some unforseen debacle, Nielsen is the very likely winner.

    This does not mean that other metrics can't be used selectivlely by sellers who are advantged by them,  but we will be stuck with a "big data" impressions -based currency because that's what the sellers want. In this regard it's the advertisers who are the big losers as TV sets, tablets and smartphones are not consumers---they are merely devices that present content on their screens---they don't react to commercials or buy advertised products---people do. The new "TV" currency will, no doubt produce more "stable" device usage ratings for TV---in particular channels with very tiny audiences---but it won't tell time buyers--or their clients---- if anybody watched their commercials. Sad!

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