Skip to main content

May 1, 2023 | By Megan Graham and Patrick Coffee

Despite progress in new kinds of audience metrics, Nielsen’s old-school viewer panel will remain the mode of choice for this year’s TV upfront buying season 
Media companies are preparing to spotlight their buzziest television shows at the TV industry’s annual advance-sales presentations to advertisers, but marketers may be more preoccupied with measuring how many people watch and how to translate that into deals.

Veteran players like Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal and newer platforms such as Netflix Inc. will try to win over ad buyers during star-studded “upfront” pitches in mid-May at New York City venues including Radio City Music Hall and the Paris Theater. Before that, tech players including Inc., Snap Inc. and Roku Inc. will kick off the selling season with their so-called NewFronts events this week.

TV viewers’ shift to streaming platforms will loom large throughout.

That change has created an opportunity to measure ratings directly rather than having to extrapolate from the consumer panel long maintained by Nielsen Holdings PLC, said Kelly Metz, managing director of advanced TV activation at Omnicom Group Inc.’s Omnicom Media Group.

“This is a bigger transformation than the industry has ever seen before,” Ms. Metz said.

Nielsen’s U.S. TV ratings, based on a panel of households that let the company track what they watch, have long been the industry’s so-called measurement currency. They have been the metric that underpins tens of billions of dollars in U.S. ad spending on commercials and digital-video and streaming ads.

Nielsen last month regained accreditation for its national TV ratings service, which had been suspended since 2021 following disputes over the accuracy of its data.

Nielsen’s ratings stayed the dominant currency in TV ad deals even after the suspension because of the company’s size and longstanding clout. But the incident gave competitors such as Comscore Inc., VideoAmp, and EDO, which offer measurement services to ad buyers, an opening to push their products.

Major television players and media agencies meanwhile are joining together in a “joint industry committee,” which will seek to create new standards for audience measurement services, among other goals. The group argues that data from set-top boxes and smart TVs allows for more reliable measurement than that relying on the panel-only data that traditionally has been used. Nielsen said in April it wouldn’t respond at the time to a request for information it received from the committee, citing concerns about the committee’s standards and criteria for reviewing measurement providers and other issues, though the company said it would be open to further conversations if its concerns are resolved.

It is still too soon for any of the newer players, or the offerings Nielsen is developing to take them on, to emerge yet as a new common currency, some experts said.

“There’s too much money at stake to just move away from something unless you have a tried-and-true alternative solution,” said Dave Sederbaum, executive vice president and head of video investment at agency holding company Dentsu Inc.

Some of the largest, most sophisticated advertisers are already moving beyond relying entirely on a common measurement currency such as Nielsen’s panel data, said Ms. Metz of Omnicom. They are basing their ad buys almost entirely on so-called custom audiences, or groups of consumers that their own research has deemed most likely to drive sales, she said.

LinkedIn Post for Liking & Resharing