Five TV Giants Aim to Certify New Audience-Measurement Technologies With Joint Venture

One of the biggest media-industry battles in recent months has been the one for control of how TV audiences are counted. Some TV networks are escalating the fight.

Fox, NBCUniversal, Paramount, TelevisaUnivision, and Warner Bros. Discovery have launched a joint industry committee they intend to use to vet and certify a dizzying array of audience-measurement technologies that have come to market in recent months. The media companies are working with Open AP, the industry consortium that has in the past been used to create standard definitions of audience segments that can be used by advertisers, no matter the media company with which they transact.

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“The sustainability of the premium video advertising model depends on an ecosystem for measurement that is transparent, independent, inclusive, and accurately reflects the way all people consume premium video content today –across multiple screens, connections, and devices. By coming together to establish this JIC, we can collaborate and accelerate the efforts to implement a new multi-currency future that fosters more competition, inclusivity and innovation and will ultimately better serve advertisers, agencies and consumers,” said Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal; Bob Bakish, CEO of Paramount; Wade Davis, CEO of TelevisaUnivision; and David Zaslav, President and CEO, Warner Bros. Discovery in a joint statement.

These companies spend most of their time fighting with one another for audiences and advertising revenue. Massive changes in the way they do business have forced them to put down their boxing gloves — at least for now.

As old-school couch potatoes rely more heavily on interactive, on-demand viewing of everything from sports to news to comedy, “we don’t have much time to move into these new models. What we are trying to do is establish a forum so we can commit to some milestones on a time horizon that makes sense – to minimize disruption,” says John Halley, president of Paramount Global’s U.S. advertising sales, in an interview. “There has been a lot of discussion, but not a lot of action, and we feel the imperative to really take action.”

In recent months, a TV industry long measured by Nielsen has introduced a group of new vendors the networks hope will prove adept at counting digital and mobile viewing sessions. Advertisers seem willing to experiment with technologies provided by companies like iSpot, VideoAmp, ComScore and Samba. But some advertisers have balked at the prospect of having to do deals with one TV network based on one group of measurement offerings and transactions with a rival based on a different set of methodologies.

Nielsen is also in the mix. The company, long the standard for measuring TV audiences, is launching NielsenOne, a product its executives believe will be able to tabulate audiences for TV and streaming video in credible, independent fashion. “The explosion of available content and explosion of available devices has driven a much more fragmented world and a much more complicated world,” says Kim Gilberti, senior vice president for product development at Nielsen, in remarks delivered at a recent media event. NielsenOne, she says, will “ultimately will allow advertisers and publishers to transact on a single set of metrics across linear and digital,” and will be provided by a company that doesn’t also sell TV advertising.

The networks have been sniping at Nielsen for months, expressing grave concerns about the measurement company’s ability to move forward when it has made several stumbles. At present, Nielsen’s national ratings service is without accreditation from the Media Rating Council, an industry body that ascertains the viability of audience-measurement technologies.

“NielsenOne is very much a work in progress,” says Krishan Bhatia, president and chief business officer at NBCUniversal, in an interview. “There are a lot of outstanding questions,” and the final product won’t be ready to be implemented in full until the fall of 2024. Indeed, many networks view Nielsen’s new offering as just one of the new methodologies, says Halley. Having the new group to evaluate all concepts “just puts everyone on a level playing field so we can evaluate their suitability.”

The networks will seek to certify measurement processes with uniform benchmarks by the spring of 2024, before the industry’s annual “upfront” ad-sales market begins. The new committee will develop a set of standards, and, in what may be a major enticement to Madison Avenue, will create a set of streaming viewership data from the programmers themselves, information that at present is largely proprietary and not often disclosed to the larger market. The new consortium will also engage a third-party audit firm to verify the accuracy of the streaming data and intend to work with several industry organizations that work with marketers, including the VAB and Association of National Advertisers.

But the TV companies aren’t trying to usurp the supervisory role the Media Rating Council holds. “We will continue to work with the MRC,” says Halley, which “evaluates whether products are doing what they are supposed to do.” The networks are not looking to offer “an audit function,” he says, but rather “establish a vision around what we need products to do in a multiplatform media world.”

There is some hope that others will join, including players such as Disney, Netflix and Amazon. “There is obviously an open invitation to others to join, and hopefully we will get the entire industry rallied around this,” says Bhatia. Any change in the way TV ads are bought and sold often requires just that — and sometimes more.

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