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The Joint Industry Committee: Nielsen Is “Weaponizing The MRC”

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TV measurement is such a mess that the conversation now warrants an upfront presentation of its own.

The new joint industry committee (JIC) that formed this year to create video currency standards held a summit in New York ahead of upfront week.

The JIC is looking to set the record straight on not just its requirements for currency, but also that it believes those requirements are sufficient even without requiring MRC accreditation.

The underlying thread here is the urgency to get alternative measurement ready for transaction by next year. And big data is at the heart of those plans, which is why Nielsen is visibly absent from the JIC’s membership.

Just days after Nielsen resecured its accreditation from the Media Rating Council (MRC) for its panel-based national ratings, it nixed its plans to include big data in its main currency metrics during this year’s upfronts – completely upending many buyers’ transaction plans in the process.

The question of MRC accreditation continues to drive a wedge between Nielsen and the rest of the TV industry.

Industry infighting

The JIC kicked off its event by refuting Nielsen’s recent letter of disapproval.

Nielsen’s assertion that the JIC should require the TV currencies it certifies to have MRC accreditation is “flawed,” said John Halley, president of advertising at Paramount, speaking at the JIC’s event on Thursday.

The business purposes of the MRC and the JIC are “totally different,” Halley said. The MRC audits vendors to check that they measure what they say they measure, whereas the JIC is building infrastructure for that measurement data to be used as currency.

The difference between currency and measurement is that one is addressing transactions, the other isn’t.

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“Nielsen is weaponizing the MRC,” Halley said, by seeking to gatekeep its competitors from the space with its accreditation.

Geez, talk about a sore subject.

Measurement data is what fuels currency, so it’s pretty fair to assume that a vendor would need to have a vetted measurement methodology before it can become a currency. Even the JIC’s own requirements include that “currency should seek MRC accreditation.”

But that’s the point: “should,” not “have to.”

Agencies agree that MRC accreditation is important to validate the data they’re buying against, so it makes sense for the MRC to be involved in the industry’s process of certifying new currencies, said Celeste Castle, EVP and head of research and media at Dentsu.

At the same time, agencies aren’t willing to wait around for an MRC audit before it can get the ball rolling with non-Nielsen currencies. “The industry can’t stall progress waiting for perfection,” she added.

Status update

Speaking of stalling, six measurement companies shared a status update on their accreditation journeys (or lack thereof).

Comscore is trying to play both sides of the debate as its aims to secure its own MRC accreditation. The company also extended a hand to Nielsen by supporting the incumbent’s call for new currencies to have accreditation via an official statement right before the JIC summit. (Awkward.)

Other companies have a less stringent stance on accreditation.

VideoAmp and iSpot confirmed they’re in the process of seeking it, but didn’t share any specifics on their timelines.

Innovid has accreditation for over-the-top impression measurement, but not for connected TV, and didn’t share an update on its plans to fill that gap. Samba also hedged the question, and 605 gave a “strong no” to signal its accreditation intentions.

Still, the JIC understands the need for buy-side confidence in the data behind a media transaction, which is why the group emphasized its own requirements as sufficient reassurance of data quality.

“Let’s zoom out of the JIC versus the MRC [debate],” said Krishan Bhatia, president and chief business officer of NBCUniversal. The quality of the JIC requirements “speaks for itself,” he said.

Drawing the line

The JIC reiterated its evaluation process for the data that currency contenders are using.

Video currencies need to use big data with limited reliance on panels, fully disclose their audience deduplication processes and match rates and be able to plan and transact against advanced audiences, not just demos.

Currencies should also be able to include content signals in ad impression counts – another discrepancy with Nielsen, which is working on two separate products in the form of Nielsen ONE Ads and Nielsen ONE Content.

Speaking of transparency, the JIC homed in on one particular point: data interoperability.Comic: Clean Rooms

The committee’s certification process is meant to help programmers and agencies match their own first-party data with those of currency vendors, meaning that data sharing infrastructure like data clean rooms is a necessity for currencies.

But buyers remain frustrated with their lack of access to audience data from programmers.

“You’re still sitting on a massive amount of audience data that we could be using for planning,” Mike Fisher, executive director of investment innovation at GroupM, told the programmers on stage.

Ideally, that issue should be resolved once the JIC starts certifying currencies. Programmers and agencies will both be able to pool their data in a privacy-safe way within OpenAP’s systems, which will also include the data of currency providers that make the cut for certification.

Then, once the basics of using data for currency are standardized, buyers can start shifting their attention away from just counting audiences and move on to transacting based on desired business outcomes, such as incremental reach and brand lift, said Jay Askinasi, chief growth officer at Publicis Groupe and CEO of Publicis-owned PMX US.

Although the industry plans to start using alt currencies this year, next year will be when the JIC’s standards and initial certifications are fully ironed out.

“Any modern media company that isn’t investing in a multicurrency future,” NBCU’s Bhatia said, “is going to be left behind.”

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