TV Networks Urge Rating Council to Pull Nielsen Accreditation

The Video Advertising Bureau (VAB), a trade group with members including Disney, ESPN, FOX, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and others, urged the Media Rating Council (MRC) to strip Nielsen’s accreditation, stating that, “Nielsen’s COVID-period conduct as a ratings service violated at least five minimum standards, with the damage done to their largest subscriber clients still creating material negative impact into July 2021.” MRC chief executive George Ivie said his group takes the VAB’s concerns seriously but has “an independent process to execute.”

Variety reports that the MRC was “formed at the behest of the U.S. government in the wake of TV’s quiz-show scandals of the 1950s,” to conduct “audits of companies that measure media to determine whether they are in compliance with industry standards.”

VAB chief executive Sean Cunningham noted that if the MRC strips away Nielsen’s accreditation, “the networks and advertisers could continue to use that information … but it would put Nielsen’s work under a cloud of sorts.” In that scenario, “TV networks and media agencies might feel more comfortable using other audience measures that are gaining popularity.”

In fact, in an era of exploding digital content, advertisers have already started to depend on other criteria to make deals with TV networks, and “the VAB demands are the latest salvo in an expanding battle between Nielsen and the TV networks.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, “the networks allege Nielsen changed protocols … that resulted in undercounting of the TV audience over the past year.”

As consumers adopt on-demand viewing in lieu of linear TV, measuring viewership has become “an increasingly tough task.” The big media outlets have gathered “a growing phalanx of data tools … to build proprietary measurement products that let advertisers such as AT&T, Pepsi, and General Motors find pockets of their most likely customers.”

AdWeek reports Cunningham said that, “the compounded failures by Nielsen in not preserving the integrity of their national panel is continuing to damage their largest clients and the TV Video buy/sell marketplace as a whole — and thus requires the MRC intervention of suspending accreditation of Nielsen’s national rating service ASAP.”

“There is a narrative in the marketplace that all is well,” Cunningham added. “All is not well.”

The issue centers on “Nielsen’s in-home panel, which is made up of households around the country who agree to have their household viewing habits monitored.” Specifically, during COVID, Nielsen did not make in-home maintenance visits to make sure monitoring equipment was working properly and that the viewers were still living in their homes. The VAB also accused Nielsen of underrepresenting Black and Hispanic households.

In May, Nielsen finally “acknowledged that a shrinkage in its in-home panel and other issues …  affected audience counts.” It vowed to “return its in-home panel back to its pre-pandemic size while addressing nearly 10,000 homes in its panel set that were identified as having problems.”

The MRC “continues to review Nielsen’s national ratings and has been ‘actively pursuing’ concerns from its constituency related to those ratings.” It plans to meet soon with its TV committee “to make further assessments.”