Networks want Nielsen TV ratings accreditation suspended amid continued problems
Trade group VAB cites continued undercounting, particularly of Black, Hispanic and young people.
Media trade body VAB is calling on the Media Rating Council to suspend accreditation for Nielsen’s national TV ratings amid continued problems stemming from the data giant’s COVID-19 workarounds.
MRC accreditation is what gives Nielsen TV ratings their legitimacy to be used as currency in billions of dollars worth of network TV deals. But suspending accreditation likely wouldn’t throw the marketplace into chaos, says VAB CEO Sean Cunningham, whose group represents TV networks.
Networks and buyers could still transact using the suspended ratings, he says. But suspension, he says, would force Nielsen to come forward with a detailed, public plan for fixing measurement problems that have led to persistent undercounts of TV audiences for more than a year, particularly Black, Hispanic and younger audiences.
“Suspension is not a sign that says: ‘Out of order. Do not use,’” Cunningham says. “It’s more of a sign that says ‘Under Repair’ and ‘Buyer and Seller Beware.’” It would lead, he says, to “a coherent process that outlines what’s required to be reinstated.”
"We are fully committed to returning to pre-COVID operations and are working closely with and through the MRC to address any outstanding issues and requests and are committed to their process concerning accreditation," a Nielsen spokesman said.
In a statement, the MRC announced it’s taking concerns of the VAB and its members “very seriously” and has been actively pursuing issues the group has identified both with its full TV committee and Nielsen management. At this time, Nielsen national TV ratings remain accredited, the MRC announced, adding: “We will keep the marketplace informed of any subsequent actions.”
The VAB issued a detailed brief on Wednesday citing five areas where it found Nielsen has fallen short of the MRC minimum standards.
Those include requirements that data with known inaccuracies or biases be withheld, even during a natural disaster or business disruption; that there be no experiments in methodology unless independent tests conclude the effect on data is minimal; that each ratings report disclose deviations from standard operating procedures; and that weighting or data adjustments be based on consistently applied and empirically defended analytics.
Despite Nielsen disclosing results of a self-conducted audit in May, the VAB says the company fell far short of those requirements. Continued data also suggest that fixes Nielsen began in April to restore thousands of panel households to full field maintenance still haven’t eliminated problems.
Data provided by the VAB indicate households measured by Nielsen were still down 18% in June 2021 vs. February 2020. Black and Hispanic homes and those with people ages 18-24 were down even more — 21%-23% — according to the VAB, which says heavier-viewing homes with three to four TVs were also disproportionately affected.
“I can’t, honestly and objectively, find a reason why [the MRC] would not suspend accreditation,” Cunningham says. “I believe the entire 2021 data set is going to need to be looked at, with January through December needing a massive asterisk and a tremendous amount of disclosure.”