Frank Foster wrote a great column over on MediaPost's TV BOARD on Nielsen and how it's time for something new. He concluded the piece, 'The King is Dead. Long Live the King!' with this:
I know it sounds ominous, but a solution inspired by the French exists. Storm the Bastille! If we simply admit that the king is no longer working for the good of the people, we can toss the family lineage in favor of a more righteous king. Or better yet, we could conduct a search for a new research company who will work without outrageously expensive, long term, staggered contracts. After all, recent events point to the obvious; the current king is only in it for the money. And last I checked, he's not dead yet - he just wants to go public.
It was a very thoughtful piece and I recommend reading the whole thing, and I'm not saying that just because I was born on Bastille Day! But it really got me thinking about things. It is about the money. But not just for Nielsen, but ABC, CBS, NBC etc, and for the advertisers too.
I think about systems of things and why things stay the same and don't change even when there are many voices seemingly screaming for change. I always bet on inertia.
In order to break through inertia, what's required is a revolution. A straight-up revolt. There is no Bastille storming without a revolution. But who's interest is the revolution really in? It's certainly not in Nielsen's interest, but what about the advertisers and broadcasters?
Theoretically the networks could band together and fund a measurement company but the advertisers need at least the illusion that it's coming from an independent 3rd party, so that won't work. Even though it's fairly clear (to me at least) that Nielsen's bias is towards the networks and not the advertisers in the current system.. I suspect that's simply because Nielsen derives much more of its TV ratings revenue from the networks and not the advertisers. I'm not sure a measurement company supported by the TV networks would carry a measurably worse bias.
Someone could do something that mirrored what Nielsen does and try to compete, but unless they knew they were going to get Jeff Zucker's bucks beforehand, building that company is a bit of a dicey proposition. And of course Mr. Zucker isn't going to want to pay for the data until he can see it. All the hubbub about set-to-box data doesn't cure all ills either. It would be a great system if everybody in the USA had a set-top box, or perhaps even if just a healthy majority. But it's more like 50-50. Half the homes have them, about half don't.
The set-top box data is great I'm sure, and to the degree that they can overlay demographic data on it, it has to be fabulous and worth paying for at least if all the set-top data were gathered, reported and distributed in the same way. But of course, it isn't, and there seems to be no hurry to get any kind of standardization. But, whatever the quality of the numbers, it can't be very good in terms of measuring what everyone is watching if there's some 40+ million homes with basic cable and no set-top box on top of those folks who still only use a good, old-fashioned antenna. Is it fair to take the set-top box data and project it out onto the whole pie? Probably not.
It's also not clear to me that the advertisers really want better data. What if Nielsen makes significant inroads with its "Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement" and it turns out that when you throw in Super Bowl parties and sports bars another 25 million people were watching the Super Bowl who weren't previously counted? Do you think the advertisers would be happy about that? I doubt it.
So while I think Frank Foster most likely hit the nail on the head, the dissention seems to come mostly from wonks, and pundits, and wannabes like me with blogs who think on it, and of course, the fans who just had their favorite show cancelled based on Nielsen ratings. But if Nielsen is the king ruling over the advertisers and broadcasters, the kingdom mostly seems quite peaceful. Sure, the minions may whine a bit here and there, but it's the equivalent of whining about lack of parking, overzealous meter maids, traffic, etc., hardly the stuff of revolt that would lead to the Bastille being stormed.
I do ask myself "But, but...why not!? Why don't they revolt? Why don't they storm the Bastille?" I'm sticking with inertia. For now it seems, the King is good enough for the kingdom.