NBCUniversal Ad Sales Chief Slams Nielsen for TV Measurement Problems

Linda Yaccarino CES
Bryan Haraway/Variety/REX Shutterstock

If Nielsen isn’t going to do a good enough job accurately measuring TV to satisfy NBCUniversal, the conglomerate isn’t about to stand idly by.

That’s the word from Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships, who had harsh words for the measurement giant in a keynote Q&A at Variety Entertainment Summit on Thursday at CES.

She issued a call to action for the entire industry to make their frustrations known. “It’s unfair to marketers, it’s unfair to content creators, and it’s up to all of us in this industry to take a stand,” said Yaccarino. “We need to reach beyond a C3 rating.”

Yaccarino cited NBCU’s move last October to take CNBC Business Day off of Nielsen as an example of the industry not having to fear negative repercussions.

“Nothing bad happened,” Yaccarino noted. “The sky didn’t fall. The network didn’t go off the air. In fact, marketers love that they’ve finally got an accurate picture of their audience. And there’s no reason we can’t do that across our entire industry.”

If Nielsen’s move toward introducing a Total Audience Measurement solution that adequately tracked viewing across platforms was supposed to satisfy NBCU, Yaccarino didn’t seem too impressed. She cited Nielsen’s expansion from 25,000 to 40,000 homes to measure wasn’t enough considering offices and bars still aren’t being monitored.

“Yes, Nielsen just debuted their Total Audience metric, but progress is slow, and we have some serious questions about their methodology,” said Yaccarino. “There’s nothing ‘total’ about that metric if you ask me.”

Yaccarino lamented how NBC series like “Blindspot” are seeing as much as 700,000 viewers in the 18-49 demo not being accounted for. “And, to get those totally wrong numbers, I have to wait three weeks for C3 delivery. It’s insane,” she groused.

Making matters worse is that streaming services and social platforms are winning over marketers with more data-driven products despite the fact their own ad solutions have serious problems of their own.

“But I get it,” she said. “For marketers, the allure of comprehensive audience data is powerful enough to ignore all that. I mean, consider the alternative. What does a C3 rating tell you anyway? Almost nothing. Age, gender, maybe? It’s practically useless. But that’s TV.”

NBCU has its own approach to melding content and data analytics called “VT,” which stands for video technology.

“With VT, we’re revolutionizing our data offerings to give marketers the clearest possible picture of the audience, and the ability to create powerful, meaningful moments with them,” she said.

It helps that NBCU has a parent company like Comcast, which has a massive audience base with data-rich set-top boxes in their homes.

“Comcast has 23 million subscribers,” noted Yaccarino. “Who do you think has the better data?”

Nevertheless, Comcast data is a small comfort when the currency remains Nielsen, which she believes is undercounting NBCU audiences.

“Imagine you’re a quarterback, and every time you threw a touchdown, it was only worth four points instead of six,” vented Yaccarino. “That’s basically what I’m dealing with every friggin’ day.”

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  1. Michele says:

    Awww. Seems like NBC is just tasting sour grapes in the programing they chosen, which is not based on talent or content but more on has been celebs who aren’t doing movies anymore. poor baby.

    • Dax says:

      Canaries cry in a coal mine too
      15-35% under reported?
      Let’s be honest, more choice plus less scarcity equals peak ad rates no matter how many you cram in – viewers don’t like them !

  2. Mike M says:

    A brave and more than timely list of criticisms. The problem now is that they can never be addressed by Nielsen. The horse has bolted, leaving the cart in the middle of traffic, at rush hour, facing the wrong way.

    Once, there were problems that could be addressed. Everyone consumed TV via one device, theoretically making a capture of reasonably accurate viewer data possible. Even then, all manner of known issues were present. Where data was sampled, how much, when and who was actually watching. At what was accurately measured as a “view” versus a channel change.

    Did all of these issues get addressed when they could have been? No, they didn’t. We had sample sizes at best questionable, in locations that were of questionable location, with “sweeps” that Networks micromanaged against with “loaded” episodes with special guest stars etc, because the golden word became “extrapolation”; we can never accurately capture ALL the required data but we are confident that the data we have can be accurately “modeled” to represent a fair an equal distribution of viewers at a given date and time.

    The first DVR’s came along that recorded to DVD media and were seen as nothing more than the VCR. That unit in itself threw the data readings out still further, as from the first video taped TV show, the fast forward button was pressed. But quality was not great, and VCR’s ran out of tape during shows and had to be manually programmed. So it was not a huge impact.

    Then came the endless hard drive based DVR’s, HD res recording and machines that capture seasons of any show whenever it records no matter how delayed. The problem is now growing exponentially bigger and the ORIGINAL issues are still not fully addressed.

    Meanwhile, enter the internet, and dodgy pixilated VCR & DVR TV captures emerge, and are ignored. The cart rolls on. The pixels disappear, the resolution improves. It’s still meaningless as there is no bandwidth to transmit any resolution in any meaningfully fast time. And then there is. And the TV world exploded silently overnight. And nothing happened.

    Fast forward (pun intended) to today. Media consumption is HD digital, wired, wireless, satellite, streamed, recorded, downloaded, live and on demand, whenever and wherever you care to watch, via more devices than there are delivery methods.

    The ever increasing content choice multiplied by the vast viewing options has driven one cataclysmic change; the viewer can’t watch ALL of what they want live, so they start watching L1 to L3 to catch up. More shows = L4, L5. Pattern / habits take hold, making live cease to matter at all. L7, no problem. Haven’t seen that, oh it’s good? L14, L21. Must watch that season now – L28, M6… M12… What does it matter when so long as I have avoided spoilers.

    18/49 are the ones than grew up through it all, so of course they use all these new components the most. Symphony can prove Nielsen are out by 25% in that demo, but in truth the gap is much higher – maybe 40% real, and higher on some very popular shows. And that is today, the gap grows every day as the (18/49) “new” technology Millennials get older.

    How you can still 100% accurately replace Neilsen? Your show is a data source stored on a server. When it is accessed once, you count one, twice you count two… It’s perfect, it will be the only answer, and it’s just a matter of time. Right now only Netflix and Amazon have that luxury.

    For Networks transitioning it’s a whole other advertiser driven story and nobody knows the shape or journey of that change. In the meantime it’s great to see people like Linda leading a charge to say it’s gotten as badly out of whack with reality as we’re prepared to take.

    • Nicholas P. Schiavone says:

      “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
      – Edmund Burke

      Thank you. The comment is powerful, practical and principled. Well said! Well done!!
      Sounds like a voice of experience and wisdom.
      One could listen listen and learn, if so inclined.

      Thought not in complete alignment on the nature of the present and future, on this I agree
      with Mike M & Linda Y: BETTER IS POSSIBLE … AND NECESSARY.

      Onwards and upwards.

      Nicholas P. Schiavone
      Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC

  3. Nicholas P. Schiavone says:

    I applaud the comments of Linda Yaccarino on behalf of NBC Ad Sales.

    As NBC’s chief research officer during the 1990’s and the Proud Sixth “Man” on the NBC TV Network Ad Sales Force under Bob Blackmore and Larry Hoffner, the record will show that NBC Research and Ad Sales had a record of Loyal [& Constructive] Opposition to the sub par, status quo media research produced by Nielsen.

    But why has there been virtually total silence for past 15 years from NBC Research under GE and COMCAST. Not only did NBC let the Congressionally-mandate CONTAM die (Or CONTAM executed in a “contract” hit!) but it has probably made closet deals (Faustian bargains) with key members of Nielsen Top Management that would not know the difference between a national area-probability sample and a “random thought.” How do we explain that Nielsen today is being allowed by Network Clients – like NBCU – to fabricate through modeling 40% of Nielsen’s national viewing estimates. Forty percent! That’s not scientific statistical research. That’s a fantasy ride worthy of a Universal Theme Park. I am sure NBC Ad Sales wouldn’t accept fabricated revenue like Toshiba did in their recently reported accounting scandal.

    There is meaningful, forceful resistance that leads to constructive change and there is noise and posturing that leads to nothing and worse.

    Good luck, Linda! Thank you for speaking to Variety so thoughtfully about an issue that impacts all stakeholders in the Marketing, Advertising and Media Industries. And while you are waiting for Nielsen to see the light, do not forget to put your full and unqualified support behind George Ivie and the Media Rating Council (MRC), so that it can do what Congress told it to do (set minimum research standards, thoroughly audit research companies through a major accounting firm and fully accredit all aspect of research used as currency in “the business” ) without fear of retribution from the greedy and ignorant players in your business.

    Sincerely,
    Nicholas P. Schiavone
    Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC

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