Nielsen will measure individually addressable advertising across 55 million devices and otherwise refine its TV ratings with a much bigger universe of data starting early next year via partnerships announced today with AT&T’s DirectTV, Dish and Vizio.
The deal creates a network of set-top boxes and smart TVs surpassing the 50 million covered by rival ComScore, which downplayed Nielsen’s announcement. Overall, the U.S. has nearly 123 million households, per the U.S. Census Bureau.
But the key, according to Nielsen General Manager of Audience Measurement Scott Brown, is combining its partners’ 55 million devices with data from Nielsen’s 100,000-household national TV ratings panel to deliver viewing data by person, not just household.
“Using [set-top box and smart TV] data in isolation without the panel, without a truth set, means you’re not getting correct data,” Brown says. “We’re able to line up person-level data with our panel,” which includes many households with Vizio, DirectTV or Dish subscriptions, he says. This allows measuring addressable audiences using Nielsen’s age-gender demographics, among other things.
The announcement helps pave the way for a currently small addressable market to grow much bigger, Brown says. Multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) such as DirectTV or Comcast today only sell about 2 minutes per program hour of addressable advertising, Brown says. A big reason is the measurement problem, he says. MVPDs limit addressable time, because when Nielsen couldn’t subtract the addressable inventory from the rest of its ratings, “agencies and advertisers would end up with overstated linear [TV] numbers,” Brown says. “Networks, agencies and advertisers have been coming to us saying we need your help to accelerate growth here.”
While the new system opens the door for Nielsen’s addressable measurement to be used as currency in deals, first it has to get through the preview phase of data collection and analysis early next year. And agreement by all parties to use a measurement as “currency” often implies Media Rating Council accreditation, which would come later.
“In terms of how long that takes, we’ll see how it plays out,” Brown says. Beyond just the MRC audit, he acknowledges, the question is: “How does the market react to their ratings numbers changing with big data included? We don’t expect big changes in the base data. Typically when we put set-top-box data into our local measurement, we found the numbers change, but they change in a way that makes them a little more stable over time, more predictable. But we have to prove that the methodology is sound and the data is stable.”
The first data that Nielsen collects and analyzes next year will be from inventory that MVPDs already sell addressably rather than the bulk of their inventory, which is held back for sale using Nielsen’s national C3 and C7 ratings, Brown says.
For its part, Comscore last month said it expects to be “fully enabled and operationalized in 2021” with national addressable advertising measurement, “allowing clients to use television at the impression level for national addressable inventory and to reconcile with the non-addressed minutes.”
Comscore Chief Commercial Officer Chris Wilson takes issue with Nielsen’s contention that panel data provides a “truth set” to evaluate set-top-box data. “Comscore takes the exact opposite approach,” he says. “Set-top box data, as the always on, contactless return path measurement, provides the truth set to actual viewing consumption and uses deterministic one-to-one matching to determine the demographic makeup of the households. The move to audiences and impressions requires a richer and more granular truth set that comes from tens of millions of homes, not a small persons-level panel.”
Comscore noted that it’s been working with Dish and DirectTV since 2012 “as their addressable advertising currency provider.” And the company said it’s already expanded its work from the 2-minutes-per-hour local MVPD availabilities to a national addressable framework with Dish and DirectTV.
Addressable ad impressions typically sell at five to 10 times general audience pricing, according to Comscore, so the precision of census-level measurement takes precedence over using a panel to infer what a much larger subscriber universe watches. The company also said it’s the only one that can measure addressable impressions at an individual MVPD level, add connected TV viewing where it has additional relationships and de-duplicate those audiences.