Nielsen is caught in the middle of a dispute between TV buyers and sellers about whether to include out-of-home (OOH) viewing as part of its linear TV ratings stream this year.
The measurement company initially planned to integrate viewing that takes place at bars, restaurants and other public establishments as part of its national TV buying currency for the 2020 to 2021 season. Nielsen has traditionally measured OOH viewing separately from at-home viewing.
TV networks have been pushing Nielsen to add OOH viewing to its core ratings stream as it could buoy their overall ratings by up to 11% in certain dayparts, especially in genres like such as news and sports, according to three heads of investment at major media buying agencies.
But when COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect in March in the United States, Nielsen was unable to collect enough data about out-of-home viewing as bars, restaurants and offices shuttered. To the dismay of the networks, Nielsen decided on July 9 to delay the integration of OOH viewing into its ratings stream, Variety first reported.
ViacomCBS and NBCUniversal declined to comment. ABC did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
On the afternoon of Friday, July 10, Nielsen sent a note to buyers informing them it would move forward with its initial plans to include OOH viewing in its main ratings stream.
“After speaking with many clients and learning more about your specific agreements for the upcoming season, it became clear that we had misunderstood the extent to which upfront deals have already been agreed to using out-of-home metrics,” Nielsen CEO and chief diversity officer David Kenny said in a statement. “Given the circumstances, we recognize that a delay would cause greater disruption to the industry than maintaining our original plan.”
Buyers are miffed by Nielsen’s reversal, with three heads of investment at major agencies saying they were not included in conversations about what they viewed as a unilateral decision by Nielsen to reinstate out-of-home viewing in its ratings.
“Switching the decision makes them go from being an impartial referee to being part of the networks’ currency,” said Jason Kanefsky, chief investment officer at Havas Media.
Buyers were never supportive of adding OOH viewing to Nielsen’s core ratings stream in the first place, because it would force them pay for media they had previously gotten for free. Most agencies recognized that the networks deserve to get credit for OOH viewing, but argued that OOH impressions shouldn’t be weighted the same as in-home viewing because people don’t pay as close attention to commercials while at a doctor’s office or the airport.
Most buyers already built OOH viewing into their pricing models, and believe that adding it to the core ratings stream would give the networks an unfair advantage in 2021 negotiations.
The boost from out of home ratings allows the networks to set next year’s pricing on a higher baseline, even while advertisers’ businesses suffer and people cut the cord during the pandemic, one agency investment lead said.
Out-of-home viewing measurements will also likely be off this year because there aren’t enough people viewing TV outside the home during COVID-19 lockdowns, one agency investment lead said.
Buyers told AdExchanger they are most upset by what they view as a sudden and unilateral decision from Nielsen. When the industry adopted C3 ratings back in 2007, agencies, networks and Nielsen were all part of the discussion. Buyers have a right to opt-in to using the blended rating stream, or at least discuss what they think OOH impressions might be worth compared to at-home viewing.
Some view Nielsen’s decision as caving to network demands as they start to develop and adopt other currencies.
Buyers have taken their grievances to the 4As. Others are simply refusing to negotiate with the networks on these new ratings standards.
The decision adds another wrinkle to the 2020 upfront, which is already mired by a lack of live sports, a yet-to-be announced fall programming lineup and uncertainty regarding the state of advertisers’ businesses for the remainder of the year.