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Media Trends Monday: Nielsen Controversy

Key Points
  • Nielsen’s National Ratings Accreditation Suspended by Media Rating Council

The Media Rating Council has suspended backing for Nielsen’s TV ratings after it was proven that the research firm undercounted viewers from earlier this year.

  • Why is this happening?

Nielsen’s research methods are becoming less effective with the advancement of technology, and the pandemic has had an impact too.

  • What about us?

At CCF, we never go solely by the numbers. We know that media buying is equal parts science and art, and competition in the industry is healthy. 

For more background on the situation, check out this article by Variety.

What does Nielsen do, and why is it important?

Nielsen Holdings was formed back in the 1920’s to record radio—and later TV—viewership across the globe. Viewership can be measured as ratings. A rating is a percentage of a certain demographic tuning into a show. Every station has a rating and that affects the buy. The issue at hand recently, is the accuracy of Nielsen’s ratings.

Nielsen’s methodology is to take a sample from a homogenous population and provide hardware for participants to track what they’re viewing. Nielsen then uses the results to represent the whole population. This method is an imperfect science and can provide inaccurate results. Those inaccuracies were especially prevalent during the pandemic, when Nielsen could not physically go into households to do equipment tutorials, check in on participants, or acquire more participants—all of which may have led to the undercounting fiasco. 

Who is the Media Rating Council?

The Media Rating Council is a United States-based nonprofit that manages accreditation for media services. They basically make sure that media metrics are valid, reliable, and effective. But they’re not the first ones to have questioned Nielsen’s reporting. TV networks and media buyers alike are questioning the reliability of the rating system. According to the article, big networks like NBC are already looking for alternatives.

To further complicate things, the addition of *OTT/*CTV services are making it even more difficult to track viewers. Brands, of course, want to know who specifically is watching what, at what time, on what device, live or recorded, streaming or linear. 

What about us?

This news item comes as no surprise to us; we’ve been tracking it and have taken necessary measures to mitigate risk. We recognize that numbers are only half the solution. Media buying is an art too. As our broadcast buying team says, “We understand the methodology, and we use it to guide us directionally, but not to dictate final recommendations. We read beyond the numbers and use judgement when it comes to measurement.” At the end of the day, it’s our experience, knowledge of the market, and partnerships with stations and networks that lead to making effective buys designed around agreed upon currency (*TRPs, impressions, viewability, clicks, etc.) and accountability. 

You know your business, we know your audience. Let’s talk. 

Contact Us


Oh, and one last thing. As we laid out in our first blog, media trends move in circles. Remember Arbitron? An original competitor of Nielsen’s that lost out. Now another research entity, ComScore, is bringing the healthy competition back, with improved methodology, and is potentially pushing Nielsen to adapt faster. In this situation, competition is good, and media has come full circle yet again.

*OTT- Over the Top: An umbrella term for all streaming content transmitted through the internet, bypassing linear or traditional cable.

*CTV- Connected Television: streaming content that is displayed only on a TV

*TRP- Target Rating Point: A rating specific to a target audience

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