ViacomCBS Backs New Audience-Measurement Option as TV Seeks to Expand Beyond Nielsen

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The TV industry, long measured by Nielsen, continues to offer up new yardsticks to Madison Avenue.

ViacomCBS said it would take a more active role in the TV industry’s ongoing quest to develop new audience-measurement alternatives by teaming up with data company VideoAmp and developing a new means of tracking the reach of advertising among linear and digital viewers. The company, which controls some of the most-watched outlets on TV, including the CBS broadcast network and the Nickelodeon kids-cable outlet, is the latest to burnish new methodologies as Nielsen’s longstanding system is under scrutiny in a new digital era.

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“Our vision is that of a multi-currency future,” says John Halley, chief operating officer of ad revenue at ViacomCBS, in an interview. He believes traditional measurement companies like Nielsen and Comscore “are going to be part of a large re-imagining of the measurement ecosystem” that will see different types of methodologies utilized “depending on the needs of the advertisers.”

The TV industry has for decades used Nielsen to define for advertisers how many people watched their commercials. For the past several months, however, Nielsen and the nation’s TV networks have been at odds, with the media companies charging that Nielsen has not been able to count audiences properly amid the coronavirus pandemic and a large-scale shift of viewers from linear TV-watching to streaming on demand. Earlier this month, accreditation for Nielsen’s national and local ratings was suspended by the Media Rating Council, an industry body that works to hold audience measurement to a common standard.

In a letter issued publicly earlier this month, Nielsen CEO David Kenny said the company understands “that we need to move faster in advancing our measurement because the audience itself is moving faster.” Nielsen is focused on launching a new system it calls NielsenOne that would examine unduplicated viewership across traditional TV and digital platforms that it believes will be ready by 2024.

In the absence of industry backing, however, many different parties are racing to provide new alternatives.

VideoAmp may be one of them. The company recently struck pilot programs with Omnicom Media Group, Havas Media, Horizon Media and Dentsu to test whether its technology could give rise to a new way of measuring audience behavior across linear and digital windows. ViacomCBS intends to use VIdeoAmp data to guarantee linear media transactions against age and gender demographics, and to use it to back delivery of commercials to specific segments of audience.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with ViacomCBS as an alternative currency as they go into a new broadcast season,” said Ross McCray, CEO and co-founder of VideoAmp, in a statement. “We want to unlock value for publishers in a privacy-safe way that keeps their audiences at the forefront, regardless of the channel they’re using.”

ViacomCBS’ alliance with VideoAmp is not intended as an isolated effort, says Halley, the executive. The company expects others to embrace the methodology as well. “As publishers of content, we can offer products that have some common denominator across platformsl” he says. “That’s very, very important. As we move forward, we do that in partnership with agencies and advertisers. No one can do this alone, and everybody understands that.”

NBCUniversal has already convened dozens of measurement companies in a bid to develop an alternate system of audience measurement, a first step, that company hopes, in a bid to get the broader industry to embrace new measurement concepts. Two prominent trade organizations, the Association of National Advertisers and the Video Advertising Bureau, are also at work developing new standards they hope the industry will accept.

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