CTV behind the growing dissatisfaction with Nielsen’s audience measurement system

The national TV audience measurement service in the US was suspended last week.

Mumbai: Nielsen is in the eye of the storm once again following the suspension of accreditation for National and Local TV Ratings service in the US by the Media Ratings Council, effective mid-September. The TV measurement company had long been facing criticism from the Video Advertising Bureau (the trade organisation representing the advertising sales departments of networks and distributors) over the accuracy of its ratings. The months-long feud culminated in the VAB formally petitioning MRC to strip Nielsen’s accreditation citing undercounting TV viewing during the pandemic, and the exclusion to-date of broadband-only homes as primary reasons.

Submitting an in-depth 10-page document to the MRC, the VAB detailed the five specific violations of minimum standards committed by Nielsen starting March 2020. “Although Nielsen has taken steps to rectify the issues with its sample, our current analysis proves the issue persists.  With nearly 18 per cent of respondents still missing, the sample still does not accurately represent the TV viewing population, particularly diverse and younger homes,” it stated.

While Nielsen cited Covid-related disruptions as an explanation for undercounting during the pandemic, the growing dissatisfaction with its panel-based measurement system stems from the more fundamental problem around both the underrepresentation as well as the misrepresentation of the large universe of the audience that has either completely cut the cord or is consuming both linear and CTV across devices and platforms. The numbers which were already on the rise witnessed unprecedented growth in the past 18-20 months in the US.

According to database company, Statista’s research titled ‘Connected TV advertising in the US - statistics & facts’ published this June, the number of CTV users in the US reached an impressive 203 million in 2020. CTV ad spend at $13.41bn amounted to 4.7 per cent share in total ad spend, with the most common share of ad budget dedicated to CTV being 10-20 per cent. CTV ad household reach stood at 78 per cent. Stating targeting and efficiency as the top reasons, 42 per cent of advertisers were planning to increase spend on OTT/CTV.

On 1 September, Nielsen CEO David Kenny had also, in a letter addressed to clients, said, “Broadband-only homes are an important audience now representing nearly 30 per cent of TV households in some local markets. We believe it is critical to include them in local measurement as soon as possible, but we agree that we need to move to an explicit universe estimate. Their exclusion to-date means a gap and bias in measurement and we have been and continue to commit to integrating them in a responsible way.”

Last month, the firm had announced its intention to add Broadband-Only (BBO) homes to its panels in October, but that did not deter MRC from revoking Nielsen’s accreditation. The Council had expressed reservation about the effectiveness of the plan, given the need for fundamental changes in the current measurement system which oversimplifies viewing across CTV by extending linear TV measurement standards to it and/or combining two viewing data sets that do not have common metrics.

For this very reason, the clamour for evolving a unified identifier has only grown since the groundbreaking innovation began redefining broadcast in the US close to a decade ago; however, the complexity and fragmentation of the ecosystem have kept the industry from arriving at it so far.

The pandemic and other recent developments seem to have put the exercise on fast forward.

Matters were further compounded by NBCUniversal launching a measurement RFP in August, calling for “measurement independence”.

Hopes are now pinned on Nielsen ONE, the single cross-media product which will provide reach and frequency metrics by delivering a holistic, de-duplicated view of both content and ad performance regardless of screen, device or platform. The new flagship currency expected to launch in 2022 aims to address the pressing concern of duplication in CTV measurement, at the same time bringing linear TV measurement on par with digital viewing.

Noteworthy here is the fact that Nielsen has been on an extended hiatus for its digital ad ratings (DAR) service since October last year. In January, it entered another six-month hiatus for its local TV ratings service, which was also extended through the end of 2021. On August 11, Nielsen had further initiated the accreditation hiatus process for its National TV ratings service with the MRC; all in an attempt to concentrate its audit-related efforts on continuing to address panel concerns alongside the transformation of the National TV product and development of Nielsen ONE.

In fact, going beyond the unifier currency, Nielsen has been heading in his direction for quite some time now.  The big highlights were its decision to measure CTV campaigns on YouTube and YouTube TV for the first time (announced October 2020) and the Roku-Nielsen strategic alliance in March 2021.

YouTube, vice-president – global solutions, Debbie Weinstein had said, “Over 100 million people in the US watch YouTube and YouTube TV on their connected TVs every month. Advertisers are asking for third-party measurement partners like Nielsen to provide a complete view of YouTube and YouTube TV audiences, so they can understand the scale of the audience they’re able to reach through CTV campaigns.”

In March, Roku entered into an agreement to acquire Nielsen’s Advanced Video Advertising (AVA) business which includes Nielsen’s video automatic content recognition (ACR) and dynamic ad insertion (DAI) technologies. The objective of the acquisition was to accelerate Roku’s launch of an end-to-end DAI solution with TV programmers. Additionally, Nielsen and Roku forged a strategic partnership to integrate complementary Nielsen ad and content measurement products into the Roku platform and further advance Nielsen ONE. Roku is a leading American manufacturer of digital media players. The Company also operates the No. 1 TV streaming platform in the US as measured by hours streamed (Kantar 2020).

Given that tech-led innovation has a history of effecting the worldwide industry overhauls in a not-so-organic manner, these developments, though specific to the US, are being carefully studied in India. While the connected TV/OTT ecosystem in the country is not as well developed and deeply entrenched yet, it is relevant here to recall Barc India’s intent to initiate ‘one video view’ measurement, announced last September by former CEO Sunil Lulla. The much-awaited and much-touted Nielsen ONE may well serve as a template or the indicator of the nearness of an inevitable change, if not a universal go-ahead for players globally.

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