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26 August 2021

NBCU snubs Nielsen, casting measurement net wide – will others follow?

It is reassuring to see that the tide might finally be turning against Nielsen. Despite every respectable mind in media knowing that it is no longer up to the job of accurately measuring video consumption, it has been widely accepted that the giant is just too large to dispose of and too old to tame.

So, naturally, Faultline’s heart pounded at the sight of NBCUniversal causing a stir. The Comcast-owned network has implied that it is considering implementing multiple measurement benchmarks, so it looks as though Nielsen is likely being shoved down the pecking order.

In a recent blog post, NBCUniversal says that it is currently amid the process of “assembling a full suite of interoperable measurement solutions that are as advanced, diverse, easy-to-use, and multi-platform as the ways people watch content.” We can no longer find the original post, leading us to question whether the resultant shockwaves have led NBCUniversal to delete it.

We are unsure how vendors are going to be involved in this measurement suite, but judging by the huge call out that NBCUniversal is undertaking – it has sent RFPs out to over 50 vendors – we could be looking at an attribution can of worms.

We also expect the resultant system will not host this many players, but who knows how wild NBCUniversal’s imagination will stretch now that it is free from Nielsen’s monopoly. The deadlines for proposals passed at the end of last week, with Scottish attribution vendor TVSquared already identifying itself as one of the suiters.

As for who else may emerge, we imagine Comscore is also rushing at the chance to usurp its arch nemesis. Glass-level attribution firms like Verance and Samba TV are likely knocking at the door, while data sharing platforms like Iris.TV and Blockgraph also have a potential role to play.


Nielsen was piling egg onto its own face just a couple of weeks ago, as it asked the Media Rating Council (MRC) to suspend its accreditation following its belated admittance of underreporting linear viewership data just before the Upfronts in April. This appears to be a case of Nielsen jumping before it was pushed, as a vote on its accreditation was already scheduled.

This followed pressure from the network and content studio consortium, the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB), of which NBCUniversal is a member.

Following the suspension, VAB’s Chief Executive, Sean Cunningham was pleasingly sharp tongued. “After months of Nielsen’s very public insistence that there was nothing wrong with its ratings data, Nielsen has essentially announced, ‘You can’t fire me, I quit,’” he said in a statement.

“What cannot be evaded or dodged is the level of all-industry intervention coming to Nielsen with a mandate of change-or-die transparency needed for going forward with any real credibility. The VAB will be pursuing the case for radical Nielsen change with more voracity than ever,” Cunningham continued.

VAB counts a host of other major US networks among its members, including the likes of A+E Networks, ESPN, Discovery, ABC, Disney, ViacomCBS and Fox. We would not be surprised to see any of these players follow NBCUniversal’s lead in the coming weeks.

Faultline is not usually one to comment on personnel, but this must be a sour turn of events for Nielsen. There appears to be a case of betrayal, as the call for RFPs was led by Kelly Abcarian, NBCUniversal’s EVP of Measurement and Impact, who previously served as GM of Nielsen’s Advanced Video Advertising Group.

Faultline had the pleasure of speaking to her a few weeks ago, where we tried to discover whether NBCUniversal’s C-Flight cross-platform ad measurement protocol had legs for a US wide rollout. Reading back the article with some hindsight, we can see that there were some sly indicators from Abcarian that NBCUniversal was set to go down this path.

We put it to Abcarian that one of the main obstacles to C-Flight finding national success in the US could be controversy over which measurement vendor to align with. The obvious choice would be Nielsen but given the recent scandal surrounding its failures to accurately measure ratings just before the upfronts, we cannot imagine any consensus forming.

Abcarian held her tongue and avoided our bait for some Nielsen-bashing, instead arguing that there was not a single route to rolling out cross-platform measurement frameworks. She told us that the door has swung open for a new era of interoperability, with many of the top media companies now receiving cross platform measurement using OpenAP’s OpenID audience identifier.

What we did not realize at the time was that this wave of Nielsen-bashing would ensue as a result of NBCUniversal’s ad tech operations embracing interoperability. How welcome it is.

We can trace these events back to incidents in April, when some scandalous exchanges between VAB and Nielsen saw the former accusing the measurement mammoth of underreporting TV viewership. The Upfronts were just around the corner, and Nielsen was reporting primetime viewership to be down by as much as 16% on some networks.

Nielsen initially stonewalled the accusations, before acknowledging that Covid meant that many panel homes were dropped as maintenance visits were not possible. VAB claims that this led to inaccurate reporting for nearly 10,000 homes.

By the time the NewFronts rolled around, the MRC confirmed that Nielsen had underreported total TV usage by adults aged 18 to 49 by between 2% and 6%, with total TV audiences underreported by between 1% and 5%.