In an open letter, NBCU did not say it would outright shun Nielsen, which remains the dominant force in measurement despite challenges from ComScore and others. But it urged all measurement companies to offer alternative means of tracking viewing across linear TV and digital platforms. And it said it is in the process of building a set of “interoperable measurement solutions” from a “broad network of trusted partners,” indicating a plan to rely less on Nielsen in the future.
In a statement, Nielsen responded, “We remain confident in our current measurement solutions and look toward a media future that is underpinned by measurement advancements that follow the consumer cross-platform journey and keep pace with the rapid advancements in technology.”
A request for proposals went out from NBCU to 50 measurement firms on August 2 and responses are due today.
The moves also follow the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which delivered underwhelming numbers for NBCU and resulted in numerous make-goods for key advertisers. On social and digital platforms, NBCU has cited strong numbers and, in relative terms, prime-time broadcasts far outdistanced rivals on most nights during the two-weeks-plus of the Games.
The open letter was signed by Kelly Abcarian, EVP of measurement and impact, NBCUniversal, Advertising and Partnerships. Abcarian joined NBCU in April after a 16-year run as an executive at Nielsen.
“Advertising measurement is outdated,” Abcarian wrote. “We can construct a better, more transparent future. And we need all our industry’s builders–including Nielsen–to architect an entirely new blueprint. It’s time for us to declare measurement independence, and build solutions that will serve all consumers, advertisers, publishers, and platforms for the next century.”
The positioning by NBCU comes as the Media Rating Council deliberates the accreditation status of Nielsen. The MRC earlier this month ripped Nielsen for “deep-rooted, ongoing performance issues” after the measurement company requested a pause in its accreditation process. A relatively obscure, government-backed organization overseeing the ratings process, the MRC warned that Nielsen would only have six months at best to call time-out. Nielsen has said it wants to pause the process because it is in the process of rolling out a comprehensive measurement solution, designed to better encompass streaming and other forms of viewing, in early 2022.
Advertisers and networks have also been tussling with Nielsen over measurement during Covid-19. The Video Advertising Bureau, an industry trade group, has faulted Nielsen for pulling field workers during the pandemic, a withdrawal that the VAB says had a negative impact on ratings and cost both buyers and sellers alike. Nielsen has acknowledged taking some workers out of the field, but said it was for health and safety reasons.
Abcarian said the industry’s reckoning with streaming should follow that of consumers. “If consumers can embrace layers of complexity, then our industry should too,” she wrote. “If there are multiple viewing experiences, then we need multiple yardsticks. For example, we can work towards a universal identity to raise standards, and give marketers new tools to personalize and optimize their campaigns across platforms and programmers.”
She added that “interoperability” — the ability of various measurement systems to be integrated with each other — is the “future of our industry.” In a fragmented media landscape, Abcarian recommended, “Let’s make it whole. We just need to embrace new sources of identity signals and make data more accessible and actionable, because that unified picture will give us the ability to follow the consumer’s lead.”