Local Stations Have Chosen Impressions Over Ratings. Nielsen Will Join Them

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A bevy of owners of local TV stations have already moved to stop selling ads based on traditional TV ratings. Nielsen intends to start helping the effort next year.

The measurement giant, which has been under scrutiny in recent months for what media and advertising companies believe is a slower approach to transforming its long-held ratings of TV audiences, said it intends to follow many TV stations that have already adopted the use of overall viewer impressions. Both Nielsen’s national and local ratings methodologies have lost the backing of the Media Rating Council after the organization determined Nielsen has undercounted viewers amid the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The change is meant to spur advertisers to buy across multiple local outlets — not only the linear programs on a local TV station, but also the venues where that station may stream its local newsmagazine or early-morning news program. Some of the factors involved in the change have to do with the fact that linear viewership has spread out to encompass other media venues, including streaming video and mobile tablets, and traditional ratings don’t necessarily gauge traditional TV audiences that fall below a certain level.

Nielsen intends to start weaving broadband-only homes into its local measurement metrics in January of 2022, a project the company has been working on for more than two years.

“Nielsen is committed to measuring all audiences and the complete video consumption across the local marketplace,” said David Kenny, CEO of Nielsen, in a prepared statement. “Impressions are the great equalizer across all screens, programs, listeners and viewers. Nielsen’s move to prioritize reporting impressions will help standardize the way it measures ads and content, enabling greater comparability” across national, local and digital venues.

The TVB, the trade organization that represents more than 800 TV stations and TV broadcast groups, has pressed Madison Avenue since 2019 to start using viewer impressions as a base for striking ad deals rather than continuing to rely on TV ratings. NBCUniversal, Nexstar and Hearst are among the local-TV station owners that have embraced the concept.

Moving to impressions “is critical to making sure that every viewer is counted,” said Perry Sook, Chairman and CEO, Nexstar Media Group, in a statement. “It also enables buyers and sellers to make comparisons across all video across platforms, gives them the most complete view of audience consumption and behavior, and facilitates automated buying.”

Starting in January 2022, Nielsen will default its local reporting settings to impressions in its software systems and will lead with impressions in all of its external communications. Ratings will remain available for planning purposes.

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