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Omnicom Media Group is joining Discovery in using Comscore and VideoAmp data to test their services ahead of the upcoming TV upfront, the companies said, as momentum grows behind currency alternatives to Nielsen.

Discovery is one of several media players, including Fox Corp., Paramount (formerly ViacomCBS) and NBCUniversal to offer currency alternatives to Nielsen since last year. This deal has the added twist of backing from a major agency holding company and stated commitment from big clients—notably AT&T and State Farm—to join the test.

The move comes as Discovery is about to become part of something much bigger—WarnerMedia Discovery—via a $43 billion merger with WarnerMedia expected to close next quarter.

Discovery executives said they’re in talks with additional agency groups, clients and measurement services to test Nielsen alternatives as well.

“I think this is long overdue,” said Jon Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer of Discovery. “Targeting has become increasingly important as audiences continue to fragment. Hopefully, by the time we get to the real marketplace, get to the negotiation stage say in June, we’ll have some guarantee that isn’t Nielsen age and gender.”

‘Year of tests’
“I think 2022 will be a year of tests and trials that will ultimately conclude with people saying, ‘You know, it’s time to really move this industry forward,’” said Chris Ryan, senior VP of sales research for Discovery.

Work is already underway doing “lookbacks” using Comscore and VideoAmp data at fourth-quarter campaigns to evaluate how well those companies captured necessary data and how writing deals using that data would have affected things, said Christopher Ryan, senior VP of sales research for Discovery. Those lookbacks will help set the stage for “live” trials in this upfront.

An Omnicom spokeswoman, however, said OMG and its clients are not yet committed to writing any deals using Comscore or VideoAmp currencies in the coming upfront, and any deals will depend on the outcome of tests underway.

“Understanding that the video currency of the future has to better align with our advertisers’ objectives, we need to be transacting cross-platform on metrics that directly relate to our advertisers’ audiences and are reliably measured,” said Geoff Calabrese, chief investment officer of Omnicom Media Group, in a statement. “OMG’s partnership with Discovery will accelerate our ability to deliver on this imperative.”

The trial is underway across multiple advertiser categories, evaluating linear TV audience delivery for OMG clients via several measurement services, according to the statement. “The pilot aims to validate that burgeoning measurement services provide stability and accuracy in audience estimates. Comscore and VideoAmp will serve as the video measurement services for the initial set of advertisers, which include AT&T and State Farm.”

Additional advertisers in the OMG-Discovery trials come from the retail, automotive and packaged goods categories, Ryan said.

Growing scrutiny of Nielsen
Nielsen has been under growing scrutiny and competitive pressure over the past year as networks seek to break the measurement giant’s hold on TV ratings used as guarantees in deals, though its ratings still serve as deal currency for the vast majority of U.S. TV deals.

Maintenance problems related to the pandemic led to measurement errors and ultimately suspension of Nielsen’s Media Rating Council accreditation in September.

Comscore and VideoAmp also don’t have accreditation from the industry self-regulatory body. Comscore re-applied for accreditation in August after a roughly decade-long unsuccessful attempt earlier in the millennium. VideoAmp is in preliminary talks about applying.

Nielsen is looking to restore its MRC accreditation for TV ratings based primarily on its panel of 41,000 U.S. households, even as it develops its Nielsen One cross-platform measurement service, set to launch late this year based primarily on data from set-top boxes and smart TVs. VideoAmp and Comscore already have been measuring linear and connected TV using such big data sets for years and are looking to get a bigger foothold in the market before Nielsen One emerges.

“OMG and Discovery, Inc have long embraced the census-based measurement approach Comscore invented with its digital and television services. We are proud to participate in the currency initiatives undertaken to advance the accuracy and evolution of media measurement,” said Carol Hinnant, chief revenue officer of Comsore, in a statement.

VideoAmp’s “currency-grade TV viewership dataset, which commingles set-top box an smart TV into a unified footprint for linear measurement across 39 million households, provides accurate data on which buyers and sellers can transact,” said Michael Parkes, president of VideoAmp.

Discovery CEO David Zaslav has been among the most vocal critics of Nielsen. In an earnings call last year, he blasted Nielsen as “antiquated,” adding that “it’s massively disappointing that Nielsen can’t get its act together, and the answer is we have lost money. Everyone has lost money.”

Nielsen executives, led by CEO David Kenny, have pointed to efforts to restore households that stopped providing data during the pandemic, add additional households, and invest heavily in Nielsen One to combine the biggest TV measurement panel in the U.S. with set-top box and smart TV datasets covering tens of millions of households. Walt Disney Co. and Interpublic Group of Cos. Magna began trying an alpha version of One late last year.