Embattled Nielsen takes fresh hits

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In a day described by some attendees as full of "defensiveness and offensiveness," Nielsen Media Research and radio counterpart Arbitron were fired upon-again-for their lack of accountability during an all-day meeting Jan. 31 called by the Advertising Research Foundation.

"People were there out of interest and maybe a sense of frustration," said Jack Loftus, senior VP-communications for Nielsen. "I think Nielsen needs to take that to heart, take that seriously."

The standing-room-only crowd included envoys from agencies, networks, cable companies, marketers, European joint-industry committees and antitrust legal firms, along with a bevy of representatives and lawyers from Nielsen and Arbitron. Discussions focused on how to give ratings clients greater control over the audience-measurement monopolies, and examined the merits of Europe's joint-industry committees, allowing third parties to analyze audience data, and asking for greater government regulation in the measurement industry. The group emerged promising to unveil its next step in the quest to create better accountability April 19.

"Clearly a large number of media-research folks are disillusioned by the reality of a de facto monopoly, particularly in TV research," said David Marins, senior partner at MindShare, New York, who attended the meeting.

"It's silly to be measuring local markets with a paper diary and it's sort of absurd that if you have a TiVo in your home you're still excluded."

One option that garnered popular support was Europe's joint-industry-committee model. Rather than individual companies' contracting with measurement services, European ratings team up and bid out the job of audience measurement as a committee, which allows them to dictate standards such as sample size. A joint-industry committee could also dictate Nielsen release its measurements to third-party analysts, something it has recently begun doing but at a price the rest of the industry views as prohibitive.

Representatives from TNS Media Intelligence also attended the meeting. While TNS has no audience-measurement assignments in the U.S., it does measure audiences in several European countries and would be considered a prime candidate for producing third-party analytical research if Nielsen or Arbitron make that data available.

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