Networks weigh options amid Nielsen suspension: ‘Nielsen has lost its way’

WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS and more major networks are testing new providers in the wake of Nielsen controversy.

As Nielsen scrambles to recover from losing MRC accreditation, networks are exploring other options for media measurement. 

NBCUniversal was the first major media seller to announce a formal plan to build an independent measurement system. In August, the company said it was “assembling a full suite of interoperable measurement solutions that are as advanced, diverse, easy-to-use, and multi-platform as the ways people watch content,” in the wake of Nielsen’s suspension. 

NBCUniversal’s measurement RFP received more than 70 responses — including a pitch from Nielsen, Campaign US confirmed at the time. 

Other media sellers are also eyeing alternative solutions as they search for more reliable measurement. It’s a challenge Nielsen has faced recently as networks and media buyers complained the company was no longer accurately measuring media performance, especially in the wake of its undercounting audiences in February 2021, during the pandemic.

“We have been very disappointed with Nielsen’s failure to keep the panel intact during the pandemic and its complete lack of accountability for drastically undercounting TV audiences,” Colleen Fahey Rush, executive vice president and chief research officer, ViacomCBS, said in a statement. “The MRC’s historic decision to suspend accreditation – the ultimate stamp of approval and transparency – is further evidence that Nielsen has lost its way.” 

“Nielsen no longer has the data advantage as consumers move to connected TV,” she added. “The business needs fresh thinking, and we’re committed to a diversified currency strategy for a more accurate view of our holistic audiences and a stronger future for media measurement and transactions.”

WarnerMedia, for its part, is also testing the waters with new partners. In June, the company became the first national programmer to participate in Nielsen rival Comscore's National Addressable TV programmer trials.

The program enables media sellers to execute and measure their national linear inventory sales across MVPDs and CTV providers.

“As members of the MRC, we have a responsibility to support a rigorous audit process to ensure a high bar of methodology quality is being met and we take careful consideration of their recommendations,” Andrea Zapata, head of research, data and insights at WarnerMedia ad sales, said in a statement. “We at WarnerMedia strive to count and attribute the maximum value of our audience and offering to the marketplace. To that end, we actively vet and partner with a diverse group of measurement companies to grow and enhance our solution-based portfolio set. We embrace innovation in the measurement space, and look forward to learning and recommending best-in-class strides in this space.”

WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS did not reveal which other partners they are considering.

The Nielsen controversy has opened doors for other providers to steal market share. In addition to Comscore, VideoAmp kicked off a pilot test with five of the six largest media buying groups to compete with Nielsen’s measurement platform. NBCU said it’s considering VideoAmp as an alternative currency provider, and other networks are said to be involved.

On September 9, the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) also revealed a Measurement Innovation Task Force to accelerate advancements in TV measurement. The task force, which has been in development over the past year, is supported by NBCUniversal. 

Sean Cunningham, president and CEO of the VAB, believes Nielsen’s suspension is an opportunity for media buyers and sellers to evaluate how they’ve approached measurement in the past — and how they can be more effective in the future.

“The suspension of accreditation is not meant to say, ‘Do not use this data’ or that the data is broken,” said Cunningham. “It’s saying that the data is in need of some repair, and that buyer and seller should be aware and begin a deal-driven dialogue, about putting together ad campaigns on behalf of marketers. There really is a new starting point now, which includes being open to using other major databases.”

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