TV ad leaders say Nielsen measurement alternatives not ready for prime time

Measurement solutions from iSpot.TV and Samba TV, among others, are buzzy at this year’s upfronts, but won't see much action.

TV ad leaders say Nielsen measurement alternatives not ready for prime time

Issues surrounding Nielsen measurement have been a hot topic leading into the TV upfronts, with most major media companies announcing plans to test alternatives to the behemoth. But alternative currencies are not yet ready for prime time, TV ad sales leaders said during Ad Age's TV Pivot event this week, and despite Nielsen turmoil, it will still be at the heart of dealmaking. 

While many networks have announced trials of alternative measurements including iSpot, Comscore and VideoAmp, this year’s negotiations will largely still be made on Nielsen despite its recent blow to credibility.

A brands’ guide to the Nielsen turmoil

Disney has a partnership with Comscore and is testing measurement on Nielsen’s cross-platform tool, Nielsen One. “We all want to be innovating as an industry—clients as well as agencies as well as the media companies,” said Rita Ferro, Disney’s president of advertising sales. “Eventually, we're all going to wind up coalescing around a couple of things that really work, but I think there's still a long way to go there.”

It seems it will take some time for media sellers to gain confidence in these new measurement suppliers, with some questioning the validity of the data sets. Most TV network groups are currently in the testing phase of these alternatives and expressed that they won't be able to flip the switch from Nilsen this year, if ever. 

“We’re learning,” said Jon Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer at Warner Bros. Discovery.  “I don’t think this is the upfront that it turns from Nielsen to something else…We all need to test and see if we can supplement what Nielsen has done—not that Nielsen is not going to be around.”

"What we're finding right now is they're all good at something, none of them are good at everything," he added. "So, there may be a menu of options coming to '23, '24 upfront. I think we're going to be talking a lot more about what else can you guarantee besides Nielsen 25-54 that might be better."

A+E Networks' head of sales Peter Olsen predicts the industry is two years away from adopting new forms of currency. "We have to get beyond just the counting of impressions and also get into the value of impressions."

Nielsen’s suspension from the Media Rating Council for undercounting audiences sparked greater conversation of how the error disproportionately affected minority viewership. Donna Speciale, president of advertising sales and marketing for TelevisaUnivision U.S., expressed the network’s frustration with inclusive metrics across all of the current options. That is why TelevisaUnivision decided to create its own dataset to more accurately Hispanic audiences for buyers.

“We needed to take a step back and make sure that any of the currencies and any of the clients we’re looking at or any of the media companies we’re looking at had holistic representation and I’ll be honest that they don’t,” she said. “I still am very concerned that if we start going into these new datasets, these new currencies, and the representation is not there, we’re already going to start out at a negative again.”

Fox's Marianne Gambelli, president of advertising sales, marketing and brand partnerships, expressed frustration with Nielsen, but at the same time acknowledged there may not be a better solution at this point. “At the end of the day, we feel it’s [Nielsen] probably still going to be the source for certainly the near future. We haven’t picked one favorite…because honestly I’m concerned about the consistency of those data sources too and I don’t think that any of them are really ready to scale to the point that Nielsen can and does to this day. Our approach is customize based on client preference, with Nielsen still being Fox’s default source of measurement." 

Melissa Grady Dias, global chief marketing officer at Cadillac, said in a panel on the future of measurement, that brands aren’t interested in seeing measurement for linear TV solely, but as entertainment shifts further into digital spaces, “we’re looking for fidelity across [platforms] right now” and that no definitive frontrunner has emerged. 

NBCUniversal seems to be the most bullish on alternative currencies. The company embarked on a multi-phase testing process last year that has favored iSpot and Comscore among a gaggle of others for more targeted metrics. “The future of media measurement is one in which multiple currencies are going to be used for accurate, timely and diverse insights,” said Laura Molen, president of advertising sales and partnerships at NBCUniversal. “We need to be able to give [alternatives] an opportunity to optimize across all platforms, and measurement is not doing that today.”

Molen said expects to see at least some deals struck utilizing these metrics and pointed to Horizon Media, which has committed to making up to 15% of its deals on Nielsen alternatives.

Dentsu’s VP and director of global partnerships, Joanne Leong, agreed we may be breaking Nielsen’s monopoly in favor of a “multi-currency world.”

“What the challenge will be is how that will be operationalized,” she said. “That’s where we’re at now—how all of that will be figured out, like how this will be factored into MMM [market mix] modeling, how will we provide holistic reach. I do think we will see lots of good currency options, but the challenge is how could of that work together with the systems we have in place.” 

But Rob Master, VP of media and marketing at Unilever North America, thinks a future with multiple currencies could lead to chaos. 

“I think it’s time for marketers and agencies to really rally around this issue—I think a measurement solution should be buyer-led versus seller,” he said. “I get concerned about the chaos that can ensue with multiple currencies from different publishers, different advertisers, different agencies. At some foundational level, to be consistent, we should have a single currency.”

The ultimate takeaway is that brands, buyers and networks alike are still learning and exploring the full potential of Nielsen alternatives, but agreeing that none of them will be ready to factor largely into this year’s upfront negotiations. Some, like Leong, think a new measurement may be ready to take to market in next year’s upfronts, while Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer, U.S. advertising sales at Paramount, said, “I think is down the road a ways.”