NEW YORK — Media research agency Nielsen has admitted that it has skewed TV viewing figures for the past seven months, reportedly inflating ABC's ratings and disadvantaging other networks.
Speaking on a conference call with reporters on Friday, Nielsen disclosed that a software glitch had meant it has misreported TV viewing figures since at least March. While the firm would not name clients affected, ABC has said that the error had boosted its ratings, according to the New York Times.
Neilsen claimed the discrepancy fell between 0.1 percent and 0.25 percent of the viewing totals. Cable networks and local TV ratings were not affected by this error.
The disclosure is blow for Nielsen. Not only is it unclear the impact on the billions of advertising dollars spent using its ratings — which the Times puts at $70 billion — but the error comes at a time when Nielsen's reporting method faces scrutiny from advertisers in light of the distruption from online video, multiple-screening and non-linear TV viewing habits.
Just last week, rival service Rentrak announced a multi-faceted deal with WPP that inlcudes a data partnership with global network's media buying powerhouse GroupM. Rentrak also revealed plans to acquire WWP's measurement firm Kantar, giving WPP a 16.7 percent stake in the business.
Despite the bad news, Nielsen’s global president Steve Hasker didn't hold back from bashing its rival, according to the New York Post. During the call, Hasker reportedly said that Rentrak never lets "the facts get in the way of a good press release."
Hasker reportedly added that Rentrak data is "not accredited" and the firm is not transparent about its methodology.
No doubt this snafu will add to the pressure Nielsen is under to prove an accurate and timely methodology for TV measurement at a time when the industry faces constant disruption.