Big media, including ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Time Warner and Viacom challenge Nielsen

Categories: TV Advertising,TV Business,TV Ratings

Written By

August 13th, 2009

According to a report in Financial Times, some big media companies, fed up with Nielsen reporting, are forming a consortium aimed at challenging Nielsen.  Participants in the consortium include the neworks owned by NBC Universal, CBS, Viacom, News Corp and Disney. They expect the consortium, which also includes big advertisers Proctor & Gamble, Unilever and AT&T to be operational by September.

Neither the networks or advertisers are happy with current reporting for viewing across multiple media platforms.

Audience measurement is considered the lifeblood of the media industry. The $70bn spent on US TV advertising each year is allocated according to viewer numbers. The explosion of online viewing has made the measuring of total audiences across all media platforms more difficult.

“The most deficient thing is there’s no single source measurement [for TV and digital video],” Sam Armando, senior vice-president of audience analysis at Starcom Mediavest, told the Financial Times.

It was not a case of “let’s go out to replace Nielsen”, he said, but the consortium’s plan did not require a “leap of faith”.

The story says the consortium expects contracts to be awarded for set-top box data and measuring online viewing as early as the fourth quarter.

The story notes that Nielsen itself has its own "convergence" panel that measures both television and online viewing, but that is not currently part of any of the reported ratings and Nielsen doesn't expect to roll it out fully until 2011.

I'm not optimistic that this will pose much of a challenge, though I'd be delighted to see it result in one.  There's a lot of bluster from both networks and advertisers over measurement and it seems to be:

We want good measurement but we don't want to pay a ton of money to achieve it.

It's a pretty tricky proposition.  Set-top box data provides a lot of information, but there are issues with it that range from "we don't know who is watching!" (to give the advertisers the demographic data they so crave) to "it counts everything as long as the set top box is on."  Speaking for myself since the installation of my first TiVo ten years ago now, I haven't turned off my set top box in a almost a decade.  I'd be counted as watching ESPN about 19 hours a day...

Those are solvable problems, but solving them will cost money.  A lot of money.  The networks and advertisers never seem to want to fund such things.  There is always clamoring for out of home measurement from the networks, but, the advertisers don't want to pay for those eyeballs, and the networks don't want to fund the measurement.  The challenges here seem much bigger to me.

TV advertising is a huge business - $70 billion -- and it is driven based on ratings.  They are the  equivalent of stock quotes for TV advertising and though both advertisers and networks kvetch about Nielsen, the Nielsen numbers are the agreed upon standard.  Coming up with another standard both sides will agree on is far, far easier said than done, and again, an expensive proposition.

I'd love  nothing more than two ratings sources, it would create some contrasts that would be a lot of fun, both for us as a web site that focuses on ratings, and for the fans.  But even if successful it will also seemingly result in problems like this:

When the new ratings data says Mad Men has 2.5 million viewers and Nielsen says it has 1.8 million, the advertisers will want to pay based on Nielsen data, but AMC will want to charge based on the new data!   If the next week Nielsen says Mad Men has 2.5 million and the new data says it has 1.8 million it will be exactly reversed.

What would Don Draper do?

 
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