NBCU continues to look for a route to ‘measurement independence’

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NBCUniversal is apparently heating up its battle against Nielsen’s ratings data.

The media giant is a longtime critic of Nielsen, whose data is sold to networks and stations across the country to help them sell advertising based on who’s watching their programming.

NBCU, who isn’t alone in its criticisms, says that Nielsen’s methods are outdated and inaccurate — and also fail to account for the new ways consumers watch media.

Kelly Abcarian, who joined NBCU as executive vice president of measurement and impact in April 2021 from Nielsen, is already busy shopping for alternative data providers.

NBCU reportedly requested RFPs from Comscore, Data Plus Math, Conviva, Truthset, VideoAmp and iSpot among other firms (reportedly in the neighborhood of 50). The company also included Nielsen in the RFP, though it would reportedly be looking for a much different offering that what the company offers now.

Those RFPs were due Aug. 23, 2021.

It also seems possible that NBCU could be looking to aggregate data from multiple sources, given its call for “measurement independence.”

In addition, Abcarian has also written that more attention should be paid to who’s watching what — rather than just the number of people watching.

To some degree, existing data does this by breaking out estimates into “demos” — or specific demographic groups, typically by age or sex, with advertisers typically targeting adults age 25 to 54 because, at least the traditional thought process goes, these are people with money to spend and decision making power to decide what they buy.

The move also follows what some say are inaccurate or incomplete ratings during the COVID-19 pandemic — with Nielsen even pausing its participation in the Media Rating Council’s accreditation process for TV.

Nielsen is busy creating 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 currently provides ratings that incorporates live viewership plus those who watched the program later on DVR (within a set time period). However, DVRs, while still popular, are quickly becoming less relevant with the advent of more streaming video on demand products.

While many third party ratings services attempt to estimate digital and streaming viewership, it’s often up to whatever company is offering the programming to provide the most “accurate” numbers, which can sometimes vary greatly.

Digital platforms are typically supported by either advertising or subscription fees — or a combination of both.

NBCUniversal’s own streamer, Peacock, offers a completely free tier and also bundles its higher tier for free to Xfinity subscribers, but these viewers all still see ads (only the top tier of Peacock is ad free, which requires a fee from every subscriber).

Because of this model, Peacock, along with NBCU’s other streaming efforts NBC News Now and Today All Day, need to rely on advertising to make money.

While it’s true much of the content on these services is repurposed from productions, thus meaning it costs very little to show again, new investments in original content are often seen as a must to attract viewers.

However, many of NBC’s streaming offerings appear to be having trouble selling ads — with network promos, which don’t make any money directly, filling many breaks. When ads are shown, they often appear to be more of a “mass market” appeal — think cars, insurance and consumable goods.

NBC ad sales insiders have been quietly grumbling about the challenges of selling advertising on these relatively unproven platforms since before they even launched.

However, having a single metric tied to individuals could prove invaluable because it could help networks and markets more finely tune what ads are shown to who — similar to the model that tech giants including Facebook and Google use to aggregate a users’ activity across the web to form a profile and then show ads most likely to be over interest.

While there are some significant privacy hurdles that could face this type of strategy, especially cross-platform, the possibilities of being able to serve more targeted ads to the right people at the right time is still a very appealing idea since those spots could potentially be sold at higher rates or even on a pay per action model.