Despite Market ‘Noise,” CEO David Kenny Says Nielsen Remains Relevant.


Nielsen may be under attack by a spate of new measurement services and several of its biggest TV clients, but CEO David Kenny says the measurement giant still matters to marketers and media companies despite all of the “noise” in the space.


Last September, the Media Rating Council officially suspended accreditation for Nielsen’s National Television service following months of controversy about the currency that millions of dollars of advertising are bought and sold on. The MRC also removed the current accreditation hiatus status from Nielsen’s Local People Meter and Set Meter Markets services and suspended the accreditation for these products.


Then in March, Byron Allen’s CF Entertainment sued Nielsen for fraud, alleging the ratings giant is unable to reliably measure smaller TV networks and that the company hid defects in its system to maintain its position as the dominant ratings provider.


The pressure isn’t just coming from watchdogs and TV clients. Ad agency Horizon Media has pledged to use alternate ratings currencies in as much as 15% of its ad deals. However, most ad buys placed in this year’s TV upfront selling season are still likely to be transacted on Nielsen ratings.


Even as audiences for linear TV continue to decline, Kenny contends that Nielsen’s service will remain vital in the advertising ecosystem. “People will still care about reach and frequency” in the future but they will expect it to be reported in a more granular fashion, he tells Variety. “We don’t have to do reach and frequency by age and gender. We can do it by income level. We can do it by geographic cuts.” In a departure from focusing on dayparts, Kenny also tells Variety he believes advertisers will start to look at share of audience over an entire day.


Nielsen has come under fire by VAB, the trade group for the TV networks, for issues ranging from undercounting audiences to rushing out a beta version of viewing estimates culled from set-top boxes and smart TVs without disclosing more info about how it was created. Making this “big data” alternative available in addition to its legacy panel-based measurement service created market confusion for buyers and sellers in the form of two conflicting currencies, VAB claims.


“There’s a true jump ball for the future” of audience measurement, VAB CEO Sean Cunningham tells Variety. He’s hoping that the embrace of alternate ratings providers in the TV marketplace will result in improved measurement by all providers. “We’ve gone from single to multiple when we are talking about currency, and we will never go back,” he says, while conceding that Nielsen will likely continue to have a big seat at the table “We are not rooting against Nielsen here at all. We just want them to get it right.”


Kenny is, naturally, upbeat about Nielsen’s future, believing it will win back MRC accreditation and expressing confidence about its forthcoming NielsenOne cross-media measurement service. “In the end, I think if you’ve got the best measure of the audience, and you can audit it and people can bet money on it, and count on it, you do find your way to the end, and so I’m willing to take a little bit of the noise,” he says.

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