Nielsen Reverses Upfront Plans By Holding Back Expected Data

Nielsen is staying with its tried-and-true national ratings data in this year’s TV upfront — but advertisers were already expecting more.

In a letter sent to clients Thursday, Nielsen said it would continue to rely on its traditional national TV ratings “for the upcoming planning season while we move ahead with the process to seek full accreditation for a currency informed by big data,” which had been expected for use in this year’s “upfront” market, when TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory. Nielsen said the new data, which won’t be accredited, will be available “for additional measurement during this transition for clients seeking to transact on it.”

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That has TV networks believing Nielsen may have to ultimately change its goals for launching the new product. “It’s hard to believe Nielsen One will not be impacted by this change,” says Sean Cunningham, CEO of the VAB, a trade group that represents the TV networks in the advertising industry. VAB estimates that “currency use” of new Nielsen data will not be available until September of 2024.

“Rollout plans for Nielsen ONE will not be impacted by this change,” Nielsen said in its letter.

At issue is data that TV executives say was expected to have industry backing in time for the upfront. Indeed, says one executive, many media agencies have already recalibrated their systems, anticipating that new Nielsen data would be ready to go with accreditation in 2023. These agencies, says the executive, are likely to make use of the data, even without the approval.

The bickering represents the latest arguments between media-measurement giant Nielsen and the TV networks that pay millions each year for the company to count its audiences for Madison Avenue.

The nation’s TV companies have for months worked to edge out Nielsen from the business of measuring TV audiences. They had good reason: Nielsen failed to count viewership properly during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a lack of confidence in its abilities and a removal of its national accreditation by the Media Rating Council — an act tantamount to pulling off the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from a kitchen tool or appliance.

Since that decision in September of 2021, many big TV networks have struck partnerships with other measurement vendors, then worked to convince advertisers they should test new currencies for ad deals based on the new tabulations. NBCUniversal has an alliance with iSpotTV; Paramount Global has been working with VideoAmp, and Warner Bros. Discovery in March said it would work with Comscore and VideoAmp to develop a new system of exchange.

Last week, however, Nielsen’s national TV ratings regained their MRC backing, standing as the only measurement system in the industry to have that official nod. Heading into the industry’s annual “upfront” sales session, when TV networks try to sell the bulk of their advertising inventory in advance of their next programming cycle, Nielsen now has something that the networks’ many upstart partners do not — a key distinction when advertisers say they still want an independent, third-party vendor examining TV audiences, not the TV network that’s taking their money.

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