Nielsen, Comscore And VideoAmp CEOs Debate Measurement At IAB ALM

What happens when the CEOs of Nielsen, Comscore and VideoAmp walk into a bar? … is nearly a joke you could have told on Tuesday.

That’s when David Kenny, Nielsen’s CEO; Bill Livek, chief exec at Comscore; and VideoAmp CEO Ross McCray took to the stage at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting to talk measurement – and it got a little heated.

Their opinions are as fragmented as the media landscape they represent.

The two main topics up for debate were how audience data should be obtained and who should bestow the final seal of approval.

The stage was set a few months ago, when Nielsen lost its accreditation from the Media Rating Council (MRC) for its local and national TV ratings. The stumble, a direct result of the pandemic, is also representative of the industry’s struggle to accurately measure TV audiences across platforms, including streaming.

“There used to be power in a programming schedule,” Kenny said. “That power is gone. It belongs to audiences now.”

Panel proponents vs. panel pessimists

But Comscore’s Livek is a lot less taken by the concept of panels.

“About a decade ago, we saw it was going to be impractical to measure folks with panels by [sending] people inside houses,” Livek said, looking away from Kenny … and toward McCray, who noted that VideoAmp is built on the foundation of audience-based measurement.

VideoAmp, which was founded in 2014, is the youngest company of the trio by far. For reference, Comscore was founded in 1999, and Nielsen was founded in the long-ago year of 1923.

“Our revenue doubled during the pandemic [where] other companies claiming to [measure audiences] struggled,” McCray said.

Unsurprisingly, Nielsen was the lone supporter of traditional panel methodology.

“When we measure, we start with a universal estimate,” Kenny said. “All this tech created more distribution [of data], but it did not create more time and it did not create more people. It’s important to take machine measurement and coordinate it with real people.”

In other words, no matter how scaled a data set is, someone should be ensuring it’s accurate by checking it against real life.

But there is one thing that all three CEOs do agree on, which is that there’s a dire need for credible data validation.

That’s not exactly the MRC’s job. But it is the MRC’s remit to make sure measurement technology does what it says on the tin.

Checks and balances … and a few questions

Measurement, Kenny said, should be “accredited and audited – there’s too much at stake to rely on data that’s not confirmed.”

Although Kenny was referring to the risks of wasted ad spend caused by miscounting audiences, it’s also a timely thought as Nielsen continues renegotiating its accreditation with the MRC.

In Comscore’s view, being able to “open the black box” and see what’s happening inside is essential for buyers and sellers to be able to transact with confidence.

“And the industry has decided that the MRC is our vehicle for trust and transparency,” Livek said.

But McCray took the contrarian view, noting third-party validation is a low standard compared to data that can speak for itself.

“The MRC just validates what you say you do, and I don’t trust that,” McCray said. “That’s [why] we open source our code base and methodology – there’s nothing more transparent than the source code itself.”

Translation: “I don’t trust the MRC – I trust your source code,” McCray said.

Even so, McCray said VideoAmp is in the process of applying for MRC accreditation – which is an acknowledgment that companies can’t just vouch for themselves.

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