TV Networks Call for Nielsen Ratings to Lose Accreditation

The nation’s big TV companies are calling for new yardstick.

A trade organization representing Disney, ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, Fox Corp. and other media giants are calling for the organization that signs off on Nielsen’s methodology for measuring TV viewership to yank accreditation, an aggressive maneuver in an era when media outlets and the advertisers who support them are scrambling to figure out how to count viewer eyeballs across an increasingly unwieldy array of new entertainment venues, digital behaviors and screens.

The trade group, the VAB, on Wednesday sent a ten-page letter to the Media Rating Council urging the group to yank its backing of Nielsen’s ratings and citing Nielsen’s diminished ability to count viewership during the coronavirus pandemic. “Nielsen’s COVID-period conduct as a ratings service violated at least five minimum standards,” the VAB said in its letter, “with the damage done to their largest subscriber clients still creating material negative impact into July 2021.”

George Ivie, CEO of the MRC, said his group had indeed received the letter and is mulling next steps. “The VAB are members of our organization,” he said, and their concern “are something we take very seriously, but we have an independent process to execute.” Formed at the behest of the U.S. government in the wake of TV’s quiz-show scandals of the 1950s., the MRC conducts audits of companies that measure media to determine whether they are in compliance with industry standards.”

The VAB demands are the latest salvo in an expanding battle between Nielsen and the TV networks that rely on Nielsen numbers as the currency for advertising deals. The networks allege Nielsen changed protocols during the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in undercounting of the TV audience over the past year. The networks say Nielsen kept field agents from maintaining technology in individual homes of viewers who take part in Nielsen’s measurement process and, while including homes in its panel whose owners had relocated owing to pandemic conditions. While Nielsen has pledged to rectify the matter, the networks have not been satisfied. In May, the MRC determined Nielsen likely undercounted TV audiences in February of this year.

“We are fully committed to returning to pre-COVID operations and are working closely with and through the MRC to address any outstanding issues and requests and are committed to their process concerning accreditation,” Nielsen said in a statement.

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