Pause on Nielsen Accreditation Does Not Appease Advertisers

In an unusual move, Nielsen Holdings requested that the Media Rating Council (MRC) pause accreditation for its national TV rating service, leaving its core product without this crucial seal of approval for the first time since the 1960s. Nielsen has been under pressure to modernize its national TV measurement product, and noted that there were also concerns regarding its panel, the people used to assess ratings in the United States. The MRC is responsible for auditing and accrediting media measurement processes.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “a suspension of its accreditation could further erode the confidence of Nielsen’s TV network customers and advertisers after concerns were raised about challenges maintaining its panel system during the pandemic and other issues that led to an undercounting of viewers.”

At Huber Research Partners, analyst Douglas Arthur said that, “Nielsen’s customer contracts don’t require the company to have accreditation, and there is still not much competition for prime-time TV ratings data,” so the company’s bottom line is unlikely to be impacted. But, he added, “losing such a stamp of approval could give customers more leverage when a new contract comes up.”

Prior to Nielsen’s request, the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB), “which represents many large TV networks,” asked the MRC to suspend Nielsen’s accreditation; the MRC voted on Nielsen’s request. It stated that, “the committee has referred the matter and its recommendations to the full MRC board for its consideration … [and that] a hiatus period could last for up to six months, and a service has an option to request a second six-month hiatus.”

VAB president and chief executive Sean Cunningham stated that, “Nielsen has essentially announced ‘you can’t fire me, I quit’ just hours before the MRC suspension vote process is activated.”

This last spring, the MRC stated that, “Nielsen had under-counted TV viewers by up to 6 percent during the month of February 2021 … [and that] the audiences that weren’t initially counted should have cost marketers an added $39 million to $234 million for ads in February, depending on whether it was a 1 percent or 6 percent miss.”

Discovery chief executive David Zaslav noted that, “we’re competing with the likes of Google and Facebook, where they have the best data, the cleanest data, and you compare that with this antiquated system.”

Adweek reports that, “the decision throws the national TV panel that marketers and media companies rely on in limbo, as it no longer has the third-party backing from the MRC that lends additional credibility to those figures upon which the industry transacts … [and] it also complicates Nielsen’s own efforts to restore trust with the industry.”

Cunningham noted that, “what cannot be evaded or dodged is the level of all-industry intervention coming to Nielsen with a mandate of change-or-die transparency needed for going forward with any real credibility.” “The VAB will be pursuing the case for radical Nielsen change with more voracity than ever,” he added.

Nielsen reported that since March it has “been working diligently to get our panel back up to full strength by increasing panel size, improving demographic representation and addressing panel maintenance.”

Nielsen, Under Pressure and Under Audit, Takes Hiatus From Industry Backing, Variety, 8/12/21
Nielsen Accreditation Was ‘Threatened’ by Performance Issues Before Hiatus Request, Media Rating Council Says, Variety, 8/12/21