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NBCUniversal and the large Publicis Media media-buying agency will test a new way to measure video audiences in the first quarter, the latest media and advertising entities to cast about for an alternative to utilizing Nielsen ratings data, which has been the bedrock of most Madison Avenue deals for TV commercials for decades.

NBCU has struck a deal to utilize data from iSpot.TV, a measurement and data company that is also working with WarnerMedia on a similar initiative.  NBCU proposes to help advertisers use iSpot to correlate exposures of their video ads to actions taken by consumers, such as visits to websites or stores and match that to ad money spent on NBCUniversal’s various media properties. The measurement company will also help NBCU provide tabulation of unduplicated audiences for NBCU programming across various screens  Publicis Media, which helps allocate ad spending for marketers such as Meta and KFC, will recruit some of its clients to test the new system, which will be in use when NBC and its various holdings broadcast Super Bowl LVI and the Winter Olympics in February.

Consumers are living their lives across screens and platforms, so we should have measurement solutions in place that accurately capture audiences,” says John Muszynski, chairman of Publicis Media’s investment practice, known as PMX, in response to a query via email. An agency like Publicis Media has “the important responsibility of helping our clients chart this course. We are fortunate to be working with NBCU and other players to aggressively test and learn in this space to uncover the next measurement currency.”

NBCU and Publicis start their quest for new ways of counting audiences as one of the oldest methods for doing so has come under intense scrutiny. Nielsen has lost industry accreditation for its national and local ratings services in recent months, owing in part to undercounting audiences during the coronavirus pandemic and not moving as fast as the networks would like to tabulate the new ways consumers are using to watch programming and commercials. NBCU has been among the most vocal of the media companies to push for charting a new course, but WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS and Univision have all unveiled alliances with rivals such as Comscore, VideoAmp and iSpot.

One of the challenges the media companies face in weeks to come is a desire by big advertisers for third-party accreditation of the kind Nielsen once had — and hopes to win again. As more media companies test different combinations of measurement data and solutions, a genuine concern is emerging that advertisers will no longer be able to compare their deals with companies like ViacomCBS, NBCU, Disney, Discovery and Fox on an apples-to-apples basis. And many longtime TV advertisers face the prospect of having to abandon years of modeling based on Nielsen data about audience reach that has long helped to guide their spending decisions.

iSpot is in the midst of seeking accreditation from the Media Rating Council, an industry body that oversees measurement procedures, says Sean Muller, CEO of iSpot, via email, and expects to win it for one use case as early as this summer, “immediately followed by additional use cases.”

“A good portion of brands use iSpot every day to make buying decisions and understand impact across all TV and hundreds of streaming platforms, so there is already a deep level of trust and utility associated with our system of screen level verification for ads and programs,” Muller said.

For its part, Nielsen is also pushing ahead to create new models. The company is working with Disney and Interpublic Group, among others, to test a new system of tabulating audiences across linear, connected and digital screens that it hopes to implement by the end of the year. Nielsen is also overhauling its “commercial ratings,” the core element of TV ad deals since 2007, so that they encompass audiences for individual ads viewed across a range of viewing behaviors. In the past, the measure looked at the average audience for a commercial break.

Like its competitors, NBCU hopes its tests will allow it to make deals based on the new measurement technology in the next “upfront,” the annual sales market when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for their next cycle of programming. ” Our learnings from this partnership will help transform our measurement solutions as we head into the next Upfront season and bring advertisers more data that accurately reflects our audiences, their consumption habits and campaign impact,” says Kelly Abcarian, an executive vice president who oversees measurement efforts for NBCU’s advertising and partnerships business, in a statement.