A Disruption in the Media Landscape

a disruption in the media landscape

By: Dennis Nikles, VP Media/Analytics

It’s a numbers game—so what do we do when we can’t trust the numbers? That’s exactly what happened this past year. Yes, COVID has taken its toll on all of us over the last 19 months. But it’s also helped magnify the shortcomings of the television rating system that is currently in place with Nielsen. Nielsen has held a monopoly over the television rating currency since they took over Arbitron in 2013.


The rating points determined by Nielsen are the primary tool used by buyers and sellers within the media industry. The buys negotiated using these numbers equate to billions of dollars’ worth of transactions each year.


To bring you up to speed, due to COVID, Nielsen fell short of having enough panelist to accurately measure the viewership of both local and national television. They were unable to go into homes to connect new households when people opted or fell off their panel. The inconsistent, and in most cases, lower than normal ratings have caused an uproar in the advertising community.


Additionally, the Media Ratings Council (MRC), a nonprofit organization that manages accreditation for media research and rating purposes, suspended Nielsen’s accreditation back in September. Nielsen is working side-by-side with the MRC to ensure that their accreditation is reinstated and in a timely manner. The primary items cited for improvement are:

  • Panel size and maintenance to be returned to pre-COVID levels
  • Business continuity and recovery processes needed to be put in place
  • A process that identifies and communicates changes in methodologies and be more transparent
  • Address and include Broadband Only homes in the measurement process


According to Nielsen’s Annie Covinelli during a 4As Zoom meeting with members of the mid-sized Media Directors, Nielsen is nearly aligned with the MRC when it comes to panel size, saying she feels they’re “only weeks away from meeting their joint goal.”


That’s good news, but it only puts a Band-Aid on the overall issue on how to better measure the viewing habits of today’s consumer. The even bigger hill they are climbing now is how to move to a cross-media measurement platform. Marketers want to see how the viewing habits on the big screen compare to those of the various other devises where viewing occurs. Gone are the days when the entire family sits down in front of one TV to watch their favorite shows during prime time. Individuals now are watching what they want to watch, when they watch it and on their terms – Time Shifted Over the Air, On Demand, OTT, CTV. They also choose their device of choice – laptop, iPad, big screen TV and/or Phone. And in actuality, they are doing it multiple ways and all at the same time.


Comscore is stepping up to the plate and trying to grow their offerings at the expense of Nielsen and they are getting the industry’s attention. Nielsen, on the other hand, is in the process of rolling out a new offering as well and hopes to deliver the Nielsen One platform in 2022. This is a single, cross-media solution to drive more comparable and comprehensive metrics across platforms.


Will that be the answer? I’m guessing not. In this ever-changing eco-system where clients and media buyers are demanding a better way to measure, report and deliver results to the client, I’m wondering if a cross-media measurement solution is even possible or if it’s just a unicorn. I guess time will tell.