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Digital Transformation Media Measurement Future of TV

NBCU demands ‘measurement independence’ and issues RFP for solutions amid Nielsen scandal


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

August 23, 2021 | 5 min read

With Nielsen under fire for a pattern of systematically fudging its television viewership data, NBCUniversal today issued a call for “measurement independence”. The company is seeking proposals from over 50 measurement partners – including Nielsen – for more accurate and reliable TV and video measurement solutions.

Measuring sticks

NBCU has put out an RFP for innovative TV and video measurement solutions amid controversy surrounding Nielsen’s practices

NBCUniversal (NBCU) is calling for “measurement independence” following widespread controversy over Nielsen’s TV and premium video measurement practices. In a blog post published today, Kelly Abcarian, executive vice-president of measurement and impact at NBCU, said the company is investing in measurement innovation in an attempt to establish more reliable, accurate and precise yardsticks for TV and video advertisers. Abcarian previously served as general manager of Nielsen’s Advanced Video Advertising Group before joining NBCU in April.

“We believe that a rising tide of measurement innovation will lift all ships,” Abcarian tells The Drum. “And if we get it right it will have a multiplier effect for both consumers and advertisers, and everyone wins.”

In today’s post, Abcarian spelled out some of the problems with legacy measurement approaches and highlights the potential benefits of independent, reliable measurement solutions. “Measurement independence will create more modern, transparent and reliable measurement standards,” she wrote. “Interoperable data sets will produce better inputs, more ways to de-duplicate data and new methods to measure any KPI. With more comprehensive and trustworthy standards, advertisers can confidently shift from ratings to results, and move closer to measuring what matters – impact.”

Seeking better solutions

As part of NBCU’s efforts to improve TV and video measurement, the organization has put out a request for proposal (RFP) to more than 50 partners – including Nielsen – seeking innovative and reliable independent measurement solutions.

“Let’s give ourselves the permission to continue to push on all the measurement partners, including Nielsen, to drive better measurement yardsticks forward,” says Abcarian.

NBCU’s call to action comes on the heels of Nielsen’s August 12 decision to request suspension of its own Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation following accusations by the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) that the organization had been systematically underreporting viewership numbers. Nielsen’s measurement standards have long been considered the gold standard for TV and video measurement and ratings. The MRC is still evaluating the status of Nielsen’s accreditation.

NBCU plans to work with a variety of vendors to “provide ... accurate, robust and independent measurement services for NBCU to leverage across planning, forecasting, activation, optimization, reporting and post campaign assessment,” per a statement by the organization.

The organization says it will be evaluating partners based on a set of six primary criteria – audience verification, audience measurement, brand measurement, incrementality measurement, multitouch attribution measurement and business outcome guarantee. Vendors will be evaluated based on these capabilities and their potential ability to support both NBCU-managed as well as buy-side self-served measurement.

Improving upon legacy approaches

The decision comes amid widespread – and increasing – debate surrounding the legitimacy, reliability, accuracy and precision of legacy television and video measurement standards. Though Nielsen’s request for a hiatus from MRC accreditation is the news du jour, experts have long questioned the effectiveness of the panel-based approach employed by Nielsen.

Measurement standards haven’t evolved all that much since AC Nielsen started measuring TV viewership of households in 1950 using a panel-based approach that approximates larger patterns based on the behaviors of a few thousand households. And many experts have been outwardly critical of the limitations they see in these frameworks.

Sean Cunningham, president and chief executive at the VAB – the organization that requested that Nielsen’s MRC accreditation be stripped in the form of a ten-page document filed last month – believes that Nielsen’s panel-based approach is outdated and ineffective. He suggests that a census-based approach would provide a more granular and therefore more precise view into TV and video data. With more precise data, advertisers who buy TV and premium video media would be able to generate a more accurate picture of the effects of their efforts and how their advertisements impact viewers’ behavior.

Others agree that change is needed. “The time has come in the TV industry to change the narrative on a single outdated measurement currency,” says Jo Kinsella, president at TVSquared – a Nielsen challenger. “We welcome the opportunity to provide the industry with cross-platform measurement at scale and we applaud NBCU for taking the lead to drive a new measurement standard that accelerates the future of TV.”

It’s clear that NBCU wants to help lead the charge in innovating TV and video measurement. “NBCU wants to help our advertisers grow their brands and businesses,” says Abcarian. “The change in distribution allows for better ad experiences and better measurement.”

NBCU will accept proposals until August 23.

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Digital Transformation Media Measurement Future of TV

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