CBS And Nielsen Reach New Deal, Ending Impasse

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CBS Corp. and Nielsen said late Friday they have reached an agreement for Nielsen to continue providing the company’s networks and stations with national, digital and local audience measurement. The deal resolves an impasse between the two companies that has been ongoing since their previous contract expired December 31.

No terms were disclosed, but the agreement means CBS Television Network, CBS Television Distribution, Showtime Networks, Smithsonian, Pop, CBS Sports Network and CBS’ 27 owned-and-operated local television stations will continue to use Nielsen’s Total Audience measurement services. The previous deal had been pegged at about $120 million a year.

CBS acknowledged last week it had reached an impasse in negotiations, saying the TV ratings service was using market clout to raise prices even as it has been slow to accurately measure different forms of viewing. The company said it would consider turning to alternative measurement services, such as comScore.

Radha Subramanyam, who became EVP, Chief Research and Analytics Officer for CBS Television Network in 2017, attended CES in Las Vegas earlier this week and spent time with other measurement firms, including ad tracker iSpot. CBS also put out a statement last week chiding Nielsen for using its market clout “to bundle disparate services and raise prices for services that don’t sufficiently address ongoing changes in the industry.” That assertive rhetoric echoed similar complaints from NBC, Fox, Turner and others in recent years, but it was a rare public statement on the matter from the owner of the most watched broadcast network.

Nielsen responded to the attacks, at least privately. According to Bloomberg, Nielsen CEO David Kenny sent a memo to employees accusing CBS of seeking unreasonable, steep price cuts. “Nielsen is more relevant than ever,” he wrote. “The Nielsen of today — after five years of hard, thoughtful work — is not the slow, plodding company that CBS would like to portray us to be.”

Despite all of the the public posturing, sources familiar with the talks said neither party ever walked away from the negotiating table.

“We are very pleased with this new agreement we were able to achieve with Nielsen,” Joe Ianniello, CBS Corp’s president and acting CEO, said in a statement Friday. “It meets our strategic goals, and will allow us to benefit from important advances in measurement as they are rolled out. CBS programming is perennially the most-watched content rated by Nielsen, and there is significant upside ahead as next-generation advertising continues to flourish.”

Added Kenny: “CBS is a longstanding leader in world-class video content. We are thrilled to continue our long partnership with them as we innovate for the future.”

Both companies held the contract talks during fraught periods for their respective organizations. CBS, under acting chief Ianniello, is trying to turn the page after a volatile 2018 that saw 24-year company veteran and former industry grandee Les Moonves step down under a cloud of sexual misconduct accusations. Nielsen, meanwhile, hired Kenny in November in a bid to stabilize the organization amid word of potential takeover bids by private equity firms and an activist investor accumulating an equity stake of more than 8%.

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