CBS impasse with Nielsen isn't expected to last long

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'The Big Bang Theory.'
'The Big Bang Theory.' Credit: CBS

CBS needs to make a deal with Nielsen soon, as media buyers say the standoff with the measurement giant, which began on Dec. 31, is making it challenging for the eye network to get business done.

CBS made its first public comment about its contract dispute with Nielsen on Wednesday: "The entire media industry is aware of the need for complete and accurate measurement across platforms. While Nielsen has made some strides in this area, progress has not been what we and many clients would like, and local TV measurement is particularly challenged. Despite this backdrop, Nielsen continues to use their market power to bundle disparate services and raise prices for services that don't sufficiently address ongoing changes in the industry. As a result, we are currently at a contractual impasse, although we continue to be open to negotiating a fair deal that makes strategic and financial sense for CBS. If we cannot come to an agreement with Nielsen, we will continue to employ the many viable alternatives available to us, including Comscore."

As a result of the contract dispute, CBS does not have access to Nielsen data, which is used to negotiate much of its advertising inventory.

"I don't foresee a situation where they can walk away from Nielsen," one media buyer says. "It would require them to change the currency for the entire industry," a feat that would take several years to complete.

"This isn't the end of CBS and Nielsen," a second buyer says. "That's ridiculous. They have schedules they need to steward."

Both buyers say the impasse is hurting CBS' ability to sell inventory right now. Still, while CBS does not have access to Nielsen data, agencies do and can still steward these buys.

"They wouldn't have made this move if they didn't think this through and have an interim approach to the day-to-day issues," a third buyer says.

A CBS spokeswoman declined to comment on the negotiations.

CBS' biggest event this year, the Super Bowl, will air on Feb. 3. While in-game spots are not guaranteed, there is still plenty of content around the game where Nielsen data is important.

While media buyers acknowledge Nielsen measurement is far from perfect, specifically its ability to measure across screens and platforms, at this point in time it is still an essential way business gets done.

Moving forward, however, there is more viability than perhaps ever before for the industry to move away from relying on Nielsen as its sole currency, buyers say. This is because network sellers are more willing to negotiate on different metrics beyond age and gender. But even those metrics, like NBC Universal's CFlight, make use of Nielsen in some way.

"We have an open negotiation with CBS and expect to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement," a spokesman for Nielsen said in a statement.

While CBS noted its use of Nielsen rival Comscore in its statement, media buyers say Comscore is not currently an effective replacement when its comes to insights on demographics.

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