Media Rating Council drops Nielsen’s national TV ratings accreditation

By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links

The Media Rating Council board has voted in favor of suspending the organization’s accreditation of Nielsen’s national TV ratings.

MRC had previously put Nielsen’s Local People Meter and Set Meter Markets services on accreditation “hiatus” — but also voted to suspend its nod to for these as well during a Sept. 1, 2021 meeting.

MRC is an independent non-profit organization that has about 130 member organizations, including Nielsen, comScore and other companies that provide data or services that attempt to count audiences across a variety of platforms. This information, in turn, is used to help sell advertising as well as better understand audiences.

This move is the latest in a series of blows to Nielsen, after concerns were raised about its data during much of the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and aftermath.

Media giant NBCUniversal put out a request for proposals from companies, including Nielsen, for a better audience measurement tool earlier this summer.

Nielsen, for its part, is working on Nielsen One, a new product that will attempt to create a single metric that combines linear and digital viewership across multiple platforms and devices. However, the service isn’t expected until late 2022, and some are wondering if it’s too little too late as the company has been considered too slow to respond to changes in the media landscape.

Nielsen makes a good chunk of revenue by charging networks and local stations for access to its data, which they can then use, in turn, to help sell advertising and gain insight into who’s watching. However, some local stations have canceled their subscriptions to the service in the past, citing cost savings and, at times, calling the data’s accuracy into question.

Lower rated stations or networks also might not be able to afford to subscribe — and often this comes hand in hand with programming that doesn’t even register a statistical rating point, essentially making it worthless to attempt to sell advertising from. These types of stations and networks may rely on other strategies to make money, such as direct response ads that pay a fee each time a channel brings a buyer to them.

While the MRC accreditation is considered a “gold standard” for ratings data, it’s not any type of official law or requirement, though many advertisers prefer to work with accredited ratings.

The MRC also has limited power, beyond suspending or revoking accreditations, to force companies to fix their methodology or data analysis.

If a company wants to be accredited by MRC, it has to fork over the funds to pay an accounting firm to do an audit on its methodology and data — which can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions, though it’s not clear if or when Nielsen might need to go through that process.

Nielsen’s star as the preeminent ratings data provider has arguably been on the decline for years.

Though it’s developed better technology, such as the people meters and set top meters, to better track who’s watching what, it also just go rid of paper diaries within the last few years.

Statistical analysis, sampling and modeling is a complex undertaking and Nielsen has access to people with much more advanced knowledge of those topics than the general public might, which could back its methodology better and also give the company insight into just how complex it is to develop new tools such as Nielsen One.