NBCUniversal Says Nielsen Total Audience Measures Not Ready for Primetime

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TV’s efforts to revolutionize the way its audiences are measured in an increasingly digital world may be about to hit a snag, thanks to an argument over the quality of a new yardstick.

In a letter sent earlier this week, NBCUniversal’s top ad-sales executive told Nielsen, the company devising a metric to tabulate audiences watching TV and streaming video across multiple outlets, that the system, which some executives hoped might be in place sometime in 2017, “does much more harm than good” and “is not ready for release.”

“The media industry is in dire need of clear and comprehensive total audience measurement,” said Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships at NBCUniversal, in a letter to Nielsen executives dated December 13. But Nielsen’s current solution “in its current form fails to deliver on this objective,” she said.

Yaccarino represents one of the largest portfolios of media properties in the U.S., thanks to NBCU’s ownership of everything from big broadcast outlets like NBC and Telemundo to cable networks ranging from USA to MSNBC, and her indication that she does not trust the system Nielsen is building is likely to keep other media outlets from adopting it quickly. Already, the influential media-buying unit GroupM, which represents $30 billion of ad spending across the U.S. and Canada, has indicated it wants the nation’s big media companies to agree on a common measurement framework to tally viewers across TV, digital and mobile. “I can tell you the technological capability could be available for next year’s upfront,” the company’s new president of investment, Lyle Schwartz, told Variety in November.

In a statement, Nielsen said it was moving forward with its technology. “Nielsen stands behind our Total Audience Measurement. Total Content Ratings is on schedule to syndicate data on March 1st  at which time Nielsen clients will be able to use the data for external purposes. Up until this time, the data being released to publishers and, subsequently, to agencies is for internal evaluation only. “

At issue, according to a variety of ad-sales executives at various media companies, are disputes over perceived gaps in Nielsen’s data; the cost of building infrastructure to house the new system that would power Nielsen’s new measures; and a broad degree of variance of adoption of the new service among media outlets. To make the system work, media companies must install software code across a wide variety of distribution points – mobile apps, video-on-demand interfaces, and more. But the process by which this has been done varies from TV network to TV network, these executives said.

Some media companies have placed a greater emphasis on particular kinds of content or specific methods of distribution. This means they may have installed the code at one or more of these venues, but not in others. Using the data to analyze viewership between, say, MTV and FX, these executives suggested, would not create apples to apples comparisons.

In her letter, Yaccarino took issue with multiple aspects of Nielsen’s product. Some of the company’s methods of data collection need to be vetted more seriously,” she said. And there is “limited participation/implementation across the industry, she added. “Some say ‘something is better than nothing.’ We disagree,” she said in the letter. “Bad, inaccurate and misleading data is far worse than no data at all.”

The brewing argument threatens to delay TV’s ability to monetize a growing throng of viewers consuming its programming via subscription video on demand outlets and mobile devices. One of TV’s main problems is that the massive linear audience it once provided to Madison Avenue is splintering rapidly. Where many programs once delivered a sizable, unified crowd of couch potatoes, most now provide a significantly smaller crop. Finding a way to aggregate a “total” audience watching a program across multiple screens could, conceivably, bring the size of a TV audience up and allow for an industry now fighting against digital migration to get more dollars for its viewership.

NBCU’s dissatisfaction with Nielsen’s product “will undoubtedly elevate concerns among investors in Nielsen and in TV-centric media companies,” noted Brian Wieser, a media industry analyst with Pivotal Research, in a note issued Thursday. The total measurement idea “was probably the best initiative we are aware of that would have helped national TV owners explain to stakeholders (marketers and investors in particular) that consumption of their content is not declining,” he added.

The dispute does not mean the concept is dead, however. Changing TV’s economic underpinnings is a process that often takes months. The industry moved in 2007 to so-called “commercial ratings” from measurement of traditional program viewership, agreeing to use viewers of commercial breaks up to three days after their initial airing. The process took months, and spurred backlash from a number of players, including various cable networks.

CBS, for example,  has publicly embraced the idea of measuring a broader audience of TV adherents. “The key for us going forward — and this is going to be very important; it’s getting better — is some form of total audience measurement,” said CBS CEO Leslie Moonves at a recent investor conference. “We think as long as things can get measured properly, we are going to be in far better shape than ever before.”


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  1. Joe says:

    I don’t get it. Why is everyone mocking the media? I think President Hillary Clinton should pass a law mandating everyone watch network news so they will be well informed.

  2. B Da Truth says:

    Let me help your programming sucks it’s so PC mindless and boring, I’m not watching Sunday Night football because of the Kapernick, your rude and dismissive attitude toward conservatives and that you’re an obvious shill for Hillary Clinton and the Global banking elite. Did I miss anything?

  3. Latrese Mcgowan says:

    Tomorrow’s headline: Russia has hacked Nielsen.

  4. 2ndprotectsall says:

    NBC just do what you always do, lie.

  5. Buzz says:

    Watching anything on the lame stream networks is torture. The so called news is very liberal biased, they not longer report the truth and the so called “entertainment sitcoms” are so stupid you can’t sit through ten minutes of one without getting sick.

  6. Scott Trent says:

    I’m a participant. I don’t watch NBC. Especially the news. It’s made by Democrats for Democrats. I won’t watch.

  7. Petunia says:

    I know I watch a lot less than I ever did. The propaganda is so bad it is unwatchable, and yes, NBC is the worst.

  8. DinkyDow says:

    First NBC can’t believe the results of the election and now they don’t believe Nielsen. NBC’s had a tough month.

  9. ‘IT’S RIGGED !’….Where and WHO are we hearing this from ?

  10. Nielsen tried to modernize Radio ratings when they bought out Arbitron, and the PPM has been a dismal failure. Also they no longer release ratings for the stations that do not subscribe to their extremely high-priced surveys.

  11. Hero Kleinhuis says:

    It would be good for the media to see how abysmal their numbers truly are. Maybe then they will stop the fake news and create programing worth watching or just go extinct.

  12. Ajt says:

    In other words NBC has discovered that the new modern tech and methodology is showing that they have far far viewers than even they suspected, and that they seem to be dying off at an alarming rate. Who could have possibly seen that one coming?

  13. Ken Valley says:

    Maybe Americans are sick and tired of the lamestream media pushing liberal and LGBT agenda onto the viewers and their young children? Maybe it’s the fact those shows that were once “family friendly” are now full of vulgar language, violence, political correctness and promotion of homosexual agenda? Maybe Nielsen’s ratings are actually correct?

  14. Ken Valley says:

    What else is new when a leftist company like N(Biased)C starts to whine about the rules that they helped created in the first place? Just like this year’s election, the left-wing losers in the media couldn’t care less about the Popular Vote, until their fraud of a candidate lost. Now, all of a sudden, they start to cry about the Popular votes! This is the problem with the left, when they can no longer win, they want to change the rules to suit them. How pathetic. And, they talked about fairness for everyone? What a joke! The lapdog media can go suck a rotten egg! Trump won whether they like it or not!

  15. Mensa Graham says:

    Someone has seen the numbers and they are not good!! More fake news in the numbers or in the news itself? Methinks it is in the numbers actually watching anything on the networks.

  16. Last Dad Standing says:

    I don’t trust the media with anything.They tell us Trump will lose in a landslide, yet he wins. They tell us Maddonna & Jayze are wildly popular as well as the Kardushians(but no one likes them). They tell us Amazon is a great stock for 10 years, but they just make a profit this year for the 1st time. They do it with athletes they like too….Mike Vick and Cam Newton are wonderful and groundbreaking stars, but one is already a has been and the other on the way.They pump up everything, even Hollywood, as a college kid I go out there because the media says its paradise-well it’s not-my 1st reaction to Hollywood was “I see the dump, where’s Hollywood”

  17. As a viewer I get frustrated when I view Nielsen ratings regarding soap opera audiences across the networks and realize that the industry I have enjoyed for over 53 years is now being penalized with not enough dollars to support an art that is still being contributed to by marvelous actors. I know that the stats can not be correct but they are using them to deny the fans the same lush scenery, good writing and enjoyable actors that the prime time viewers get to see. This past year has been a significant loss of favorite actors and characters due to the arcane data gathering that applies to those of us who view a television and does not take into account those who view I-Phone, tablets and online streaming at times that they are available to watch the programs. Getting sports out of network daytime programing would be a plus as well as news events that do not effect the entire country’s well being until after 4:00pm in in the afternoon would be great as well.

  18. Philip Peake says:

    This makes no sense whatsoever. If others don’t implement the monitoring code, they will look worse than those that , and so able to charge less. What is the problem? Lazyness/incompetence equals less money. Seems right to me.

  19. I rarely watch stations that cater to the #realFakeNews. This includes CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC and a host of other corporately-owned fake news outlets. sign this petition to yank their #FCC licenses.

  20. Juan Valdez says:

    My guess is that accuracy in measuring audiences is the last thing the big media corps want.
    Then how will they justify their confiscatory advertising rates? The legacy media is DYING and they KNOW IT.

  21. Bill says:

    The Blacklist is the only thing worth watching on NBC.

  22. Bill Williams says:

    Maybe their audience really IS disappearing. It did from our house.

  23. Joe Tonelli says:


  24. Why would anyone watch such trash on NBC??? They are catering to the lowest common denominator. Besides, I personally boycott any NBC product after this monopoly that should be broken apart trashed Trump and became the yellow rag of the airwaves. Uncle Walter I am sure is rolling in his grave because of such biased reporting–so is Huntley/Brinkley. NBC just doesn’t understand, they have driven away all the coveted demographics with trash programming and biased news reporting.

  25. JOHN says:

    jdp…we want a lot less violence and much less porn type movies, keep it clean, put God first, need more learning films and wholesome family movies.

  26. David says:

    Cable, satellite, etc should be forced to itemize all channels instead of bundling. Leftist outlets/channels are subsidized the way it is done now. MSNBC has no viewers but is actually paid for by viewers of other outlets.

    • Robert W says:

      David: I agree. I sometimes wonder if I linger for even a few seconds over a channel I don’t watch like CNN or ESPN am I counted as a view. I would love to be able to pay for only those channels I want to pay for.

  27. Griffin Edward says:

    People are tracked in every shape and form through daily life and TV execs state that they have no idea what people are watching…utter b.s.

    With cable, internet cookies, and even dish tv every digital move made is tracked.

    NBC os just looking for excuses as to why no one is watching that ridiculously bad channel

  28. M says:

    NBC sucks. Nothing worth watching. All of their shows include political undertones or the typical PC brainwashing. NBC = Nothing But Crap

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