UPDATED at 2:50PM PT with Nielsen restoring previous plan. Nielsen, bowing to pressure from major TV networks, has reversed course and will once again aim to include out-of-home viewership with overall TV ratings starting this fall.
“After speaking with many clients and learning more about your specific agreements for the upcoming season, it became clear that we had misunderstood the extent to which upfront deals have already been agreed to using out-of-home metrics,” Nielsen CEO wrote in a letter to clients provided to Deadline. “Given the circumstances, we recognize that a delay would cause greater disruption to the industry than maintaining our original plan.”
Kenny addressed networks’ charges that Nielsen had used COVID-19 as an excuse when making the announcement this week that it was suspending the plan.
“Our concern was about consumer behavior, and not the Nielsen methodology,” the CEO wrote. “While out-of-home audiences have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, our methodology is strong and the data is reflective of consumer behavior.” He ended the letter by promising in the future to have “a more complete, inclusive, and transparent process as the currency evolves with changing consumer behavior.”
A TV ad industry trade group representing most major U.S. networks, is putting pressure on Nielsen over the measurement firm’s decision to delay its incorporation of out-of-home data into overall ratings.
Sean Cunningham, CEO of VAB, conveyed the push-back in a letter sent Thursday to Nielsen CEO Dave Kenny. VAB represents, among others, the big four broadcast networks, the CW and several other major cable programmers.
Earlier in the day, Kenny had informed Nielsen clients of the plan to put the initiative on hold. He attributed the move to COVID-19, which has shut down many places that would be measured, like bars, offices and hotels. “With future uncertainty around how the pandemic will further impact out-of-home viewing, Fall 2020 is not the ideal time to integrate this measurement into currency,” Kenny wrote.
“COVID as a decision driver does not ring true,” Cunningham retorted, citing VAB’s analysis of viewing patterns. “We do not see a methodological driver that would justify postponement.”
Originally, the measurement firm had said it would start accounting for viewing outside the home this fall, which would have given networks a much-needed boost as they battle to salvage revenue in a difficult climate. Sports programming is especially impaired by not including out-of-home stats — CBS and Fox have gone as far as issuing updated stats for the Super Bowl, boosting their tallies by as much as 10% over regular linear and digital numbers.
Nielsen now intends to revisit the plan in the first quarter of 2021, but for networks already falling short of projections and lacking the upfront momentum they have had in recent years, that could come too late.
Cunningham faulted Nielsen for not preparing networks for the change.
“‘Blindsiding’ is perhaps the politest way of characterizing how under-communicated and contradictory” the news came across, he wrote. “It was received as a BAD SURPRISE by my industry leaders, who were stunned by the lack of dialogue” prior to the formal suspension.