The Media Rating Council has voted to suspend accreditation for Nielsen’s national and local TV measurement services, leaving no accredited services for measuring TV audiences in the U.S., and a void rivals hope to fill.
“An accreditation suspension may be imposed by MRC when an accredited service has been documented to have material standards non-compliance or operational issues that are deemed to have exerted an adverse effect on the service,” the MRC said in a statement. The industry trade group VAB (Video Advertising Bureau), which represents TV networks, has said Nielsen’s national TV panel has been seriously undercounting audiences, particularly minority and younger viewers, since starting workarounds to limit home visits during the pandemic last year.
Some issues in local markets, which have been on hiatus since last year, mirror issues nationally, the MRC said. Questions about Nielsen’s ability to integrate broadband-only households into its local measurement also led to that suspension.
The suspensions won’t take effect until later this month. The MRC is required to notify a service 30 days in advance of a possible suspension, and those notifications came Aug. 12 for national and Aug. 20 for local TV markets.
TV ad deals long have been predominantly done using Nielsen ratings and guarantees against them. While an increasing number have been done using alternative currencies in recent years, even the VAB expects Nielsen numbers will continue to be used in most deals at least in the near-term.
Nielsen CEO David Kenny said in a note to clients that the company is already addressing issues raised by the MRC, including a business continuity plan to address future pandemic-size issues, but didn’t provide a timetable for when accreditation might resume.
Nielsen declared its intention to seek a hiatus last month, but the MRC declined to grant it, instead voting on whether to suspend the service. While a hiatus lasts six months and is renewable, the suspension is open ended. Some in the industry expect Nielsen won’t have accreditation again until its Nielsen One cross-platform service is running late next year and can qualify – which could take years.
“While we are disappointed that the situation has come to this, we believe these are the proper actions for the MRC to take at this time,” said MRC CEO George Ivie in a statement. “MRC’s board of directors, which represents an extremely broad range of industry constituencies, and includes advertisers, agencies, and media companies of all types, is strongly unified in its positions on these matters. MRC stands committed in our willingness to work with Nielsen toward the goal of being able to restore accreditation to these important services at the earliest possible time, and it is our hope that Nielsen likewise will continue to engage with MRC and its clients in pursuit of that goal.”
The MRC board is made up of representatives of all members, currently around 160, with TV networks of various types making up less than a third, and agency and client representatives making up the rest.
Nielsen CEO David Kenny in a letter to clients, which appears to have been written in anticipation of the suspension, said the company is addressing issues raised by the MRC, including adding 2,500 homes to its panel since March as vaccination rates have increased. He said Nielsen expects to reach its “contract install target” of 41,600 homes by the first quarter and expand the sample by another 15% by the second quarter of 2023.
“We were not as fast nor were we as transparent as we could have been in reporting issues with our panel resulting from the decision not to enter homes at the start of the pandemic,” Kenny said, vowing to do better.
He also said Nielsen is working with the MRC on an audit framework to include broadband-only homes in local TV measurement, which it said amount to as much as 30% in some places.
“Nielsen remains committed to working alongside the MRC and we fully support the audit process. At the same time, please know that we are not going to stop innovating and building the measurement platform for the future. We ask the industry to support and collaborate with us on these efforts.”
“The united buy/sell marketplace decision to suspend Nielsen’s national and local market accreditation must be seen by Nielsen as a loud change-or-die challenge,” said VAB CEO Sean Cunningham in a statement. “In fact, all measurement and currency providers with big future aspirations in the video advertising sector must take the 2021 mandate for real transparency, full and deep audience capture, urgent innovation and rigorous verification as mission-critical for them all. Advertisers should expect to see more innovation in the next three years in video measurement and currency than what was achieved in the last 30 years. Time has officially expired on friction and frustration."