Home TV The TV Industry Wants Accreditation. But Does It Want The MRC?

The TV Industry Wants Accreditation. But Does It Want The MRC?

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The TV industry has questions about the value of the Media Rating Council (MRC).

When the third-party measurement accreditation body revoked its seal of approval for Nielsen’s TV ratings in 2021, it spurred a hunt for alternatives. Now, media and tech companies are debating whether MRC accreditation is even necessary.

It’s still the case that any company that’s serious about playing in the measurement space must go through the process of MRC accreditation “whether they like it or not,” said Mainak Mazumdar, chief research and analytics officer at FOX, speaking at the CIMM Summit in New York City earlier this week.

But not everyone agrees.

“It is unrealistic to expect the way the MRC is structured to have any credibility in saying a company’s product is going to be trustworthy,” said Scott McKinley, CEO of Truthset, a data validation and measurement company, also speaking at CIMM.

Harsh. But McKinley’s view highlights the fact that the industry can’t agree on the role of the MRC.

The price of progress

The cost of an average MRC audit is between $100,000 and $200,000, although the price to audit for products with more complex data gathering processes, such as the alternative measurement currencies racing to replace Nielsen, could hit closer to $1 million.

The MRC is “supporting incumbents with enormous pocketbooks and inadvertently stopping innovation for companies too small to afford [an audit],” McKinley said.

It’s unclear how much the MRC can control pricing considering that audits themselves are conducted by a third-party accounting firm, such as Ernst & Young, to avoid conflicts of interest.

But “we do take on small vendors and try to work with them financially to make [an audit] happen,” said George Ivie, CEO of the MRC, also speaking at CIMM.

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People love to talk about fair measurement standards “when they want to be quoted,” Ivie added, but when they find out how much it costs to maintain them, their tune changes. (Roasted.)

Besides, one could argue that a couple hundred thousand dollars is chump change for ad tech companies with enough resources to pursue a business in TV measurement – especially related to currency, which accounts for billions in transactions per year (about $25 billion in 2023, according to Insider Intelligence).

Playing favorites

Still, McKinley’s accusations reveal a more unsettling problem: The ad industry doesn’t seem to fully trust the MRC.

Here’s one viral example: The org made headlines in August for fast-tracking a vote to accredit Nielsen measurement integrated with Amazon’s streaming data. But the meeting between Nielsen and the MRC didn’t even end in a vote when it became clear the motion was unlikely to pass, according to one participant.

Why not? Because programmers were salty they didn’t get an opportunity for similar data integrations with Nielsen (or so they claim), and agencies didn’t feel it was fair to pay a premium for inflated ratings.

And it’s hard to regain trust once lost.

“The MRC is in Nielsen’s back pocket,” an ex-Nielsen vet told AdExchanger last month, on condition of anonymity, of course.

The sentiment might explain why other measurement providers have also publicly expressed doubt about the MRC.

Filling the gaps

Despite the doubts, the MRC insists its approach is fair because it doesn’t have any skin in the measurement game (because it can’t).

As long as a measurement company is at least pursuing an audit, Ivie said, the MRC “does not tell people that they shouldn’t use a product that’s still in the accreditation process.”

The broadcaster joint industry committee (JIC), which was formed earlier this year to create standards and a streaming data product for new measurement currencies, also shares the opinion that providers should at least be trying to get accreditation.

But the MRC’s process is long and arduous, and programmers and agencies need to test their options in the meantime, with or without accreditation, said Mariel Estrada, head of video currency at Omnicom Media Group, which is part of the JIC.

“We encourage and support the work that the MRC is doing,” Estrada said, but agencies can’t delay the work that needs to be done now so they can start transacting on new measurement numbers.

By “work,” Estrada means the JIC’s own certification program that’s already well underway.

While the MRC’s accreditation process is more thorough, JIC certification can serve as a “missing link” to bring “transparency and reliability” to measurement, said Celeste Castle, EVP and head of video investment at Dentsu, which is also part of the JIC.

Don’t you trust me?

But speaking of transparency, the MRC acknowledges it’s an area where there’s room for improvement. “There’s a lot of confusion out there” about what the MRC actually accredits, Ivie said.

The MRC focuses on measurement for audiences, impressions, brand safety, fraud and invalid traffic, for example.

Having so many specialties makes the headlines about MRC accreditation misleading, according to Arielle Garcia, founder of ASG Solutions and formerly chief privacy officer at UM (until very recently). It’s easy to conflate all of the different types of media and measurement that the MRC is looking at.

For example, iSpot made headlines in September for snagging MRC accreditation for its ability to count national TV ad occurrences, not the actual audiences seeing those ads. As in, iSpot still doesn’t have the kind of accreditation the industry is expecting Nielsen competitors to have.

“There is opportunity for us to be clearer,” Ivie said, “and we’re trying to get better at it.”

It’s a bit of a paradox, though. The industry wants accreditation for Nielsen competitors, but it has doubts about the organization that’s doling out the seals.

For fair measurement to happen, the MRC needs to be “crystal clear” about what it’s doing, Garcia said, “so as to not be mistaken as the [sole] arbiter of trustworthiness.”

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