A ‘constant merry-go-round’: Nielsen and Comscore say the right things, but aren’t progressing fast enough for media buyers

media planning Buzz

The move to planning and buying television nationally on an impressions basis rather than on ratings has been relatively smooth and steady over the last two years.

But local buying and planning has been a bit of a messier story, especially in light of recent issues around Nielsen’s pandemic-related measurement challenges that led it to lose its accreditation by the Media Rating Council (MRC).

THE BOTTOM LINE

One fundamental metric that needs to be ironed out across the buying and selling parts of the video industry is the difference between how a TV/video impression is counted (minimum five seconds) versus a digital video impression (three seconds).

The issue came to a head during a virtual panel featuring reps from Nielsen and Comscore at Thursday’s TVB Forward conference, held by the Television Bureau of Advertising, which advocates for local television.

Karthik Rao, Nielsen’s COO, defended the company’s continued pursuit of panel-based measurement, on the argument that “they’re the only things that can provide longitudinal access to what consumers actually do within their households,” as well as addressing inclusion and representation. He said Nielsen plans to keep investing in panels. 

Rao insisted Nielsen is moving “in a sequence” to address getting re-accredited, and acknowledged that the TV metrics system up to today has been “blunt.”

Nancy Larkin, Horizon Media’s executive vp and managing partner of Local One, its investment unit, cited the urgent need for a “measurement system that’s accredited, reliable and has substantial representation of each local market … Too much time is spent by buyers and agencies having to analyze the data — you just need to get it right.”

One fundamental metric that needs to be ironed out across the buying and selling parts of the video industry is the difference between how a TV/video impression is counted (minimum five seconds) versus a digital video impression (three seconds). Bill Livek, CEO and executive vice chairman of measurement firm Comscore, called that difference “marginal” but acknowledged “the industry should come together around a common definition.” 

Livek said the accreditation mess around Nielsen (which he politely referred to as “industry chaos”) has sped up Comscore’s own efforts to get accredited by MRC for its Comscore TV measurement system, which it expects an answer on in the next two weeks. Data gathered in the 210 local markets it plans to serve will inform its national system. “We think it’s important agencies can upshift and downshift,” said Livek.

Horizon’s Larkin said she believes “we all need to move toward impressions,” adding that “the ability to capture the viewing and usage across all TV and digital platforms is critical, and impressions will provide a common denominator.”

Fellow panelist Missy Evenson, vp of sales for local media at E.W. Scripps Co., which owns several TV stations across the country, echoed the need for standardization of impressions-based definitions. “We need an agreed-upon currency of impressions, and an agreed-upon definition of what an impression is across all platforms,” she said. Evenson added the need for “universe estimates that we can all agree on that are validated … Why should the length of time be different between linear and digital?”

The discussion at the conference made clear the measurement firms still have a long way to go before making agencies and clients feel like they have what they need.

As Horizon’s Larkin put it, “It’s just the constant merry-go-round and never jumping off.”

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