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Nielsen Sheds Unit as It Gears Up for Big Data

Xfinity TV on a stand
(Image credit: Xfinity)

There’s a saying in the advertising business that if you can’t measure it, you can’t sell it. The TV business is looking to sell the swelling number of streaming viewers watching on connected TVs and offer more addressable advertising, but needs to be able to compare apples to apples as clients struggle for breath in a sea of cross-platform data. 

CIMM's Jane Clarke

CIMM's Jane Clarke (Image credit: Nielsen)

The audience measurement leader, Nielsen, told clients it is working on a currency for advertising that incorporates big data from millions of set-top boxes and smart TVs, along with its iconic panel of Nielsen households. The new currency will also count the impressions for individual commercials, instead of the “average commercial minute” calculated in the current C3 and C7 metrics. (Nielsen will continue to produce C3 and C7 for buyers and sellers who prefer to continue to use that metric as currency.) 

Addressing Addressable Ads 

Nielsen also plans to measure addressable advertising and offer daily downloads on an enlarged set of streaming services, including Pluto TV, Tubi and Xfinity. “The changes are incredibly important to the ecosystem, especially as it further develops advanced advertising products,” Howard Schimmel, president of Janus Strategy & Insights, said. 

Having agreed to sell off its Global Connect business for $2.7 billion to Advent International following a strategic review, Nielsen might have cleared its financial deck, enabling it to get the job done. 

“Nielsen now has more clarity following the sale of Connect,” analyst Daniel Salmon of BMO Capital Markets said. “Now the case needs to be made for media, and while elements are trickling out we anticipate more on the mid- and long-term strategic vision to come.” Nielsen is expected to lay out its media measurement plans at its investor day on Dec. 9. 

“The amount of disruption and innovation that we have experienced in the past few months would normally happen over the course of a few years,” Nielsen CEO David Kenny said on the company’s earnings call with analysts. “We are collaborating closely with the industry to build alignment between media buyers and sellers and we have seen demand from our key industry players.” 

Panels alone can’t measure addressable advertising, added Jane Clarke, CEO of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement. “This is one of the factors that has delayed the launch of addressable inventory in national TV minutes,” she said. “Now Nielsen has to work with all the MVPDs, with [standards -setting consortium Project] OAR and also with their own Advanced TV division to get the addressable ad data passed back to them. These are all new processes and business agreements.” 

The methodology for determining de-duplicated reach across streaming and linear and addressable isn’t completely sorted out either, Clarke added. “Nielsen plans to use their panel, but has also launched a Nielsen ID graph. They’ll most likely need another ID graph partner to link the STB, smart TV and addressable data with the digital data.” 

Nielsen isn’t the only one looking to tackle the new media environment. At Comscore, digging itself out from financial issues and a strategic review, new management has laid out an aggressive plan to roll out cross-platform and addressable measurement products. 

“COVID hits, and what we thought would take probably half a decade to play out is playing out in a very brief period of time,” Comscore CEO Bill Livek said, noting that his company was built on using big data for census-level measurement. “We have a jump because we’ve been producing exact commercial impressions with audiences and what ties national, local and addressability together are the impressions.” 

Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, a pioneer in using data to target TV advertising, said it's going to be put up or shut up time for all of the ad measurement companies. 

“Nielsen's biggest challenge will be, I suspect, that some deeply entrenched players in TV, particularly large buyers, may not be so eager to have full reporting on commercial ad ratings since it will certainly show that there is a big gap between average show ratings — who watched the content — and the actual rating on each and every 15 and 30 second spot, which is almost always lower,” Morgan said. “Fortunately, advertisers will be the big winners, since they will now have much more transparency into what they actually get in each and every TV ad campaign.” 

New Players Stake a Claim 

Newer companies are also staking out their place in cross-platform measurement. 

“Set-top box and Smart TV data represent scale along with an improved level of granularity. However, to create individualized reporting, a single-source cross-platform and cross-device system that can measure everything in the home is needed to calibrate all of the various large the data sets,” said former GroupM advanced advertising guru Michael Bologna, now president and chief revenue officer of HyphaMetrics, which has raised $2 million to measure cross-platform exposure to advertising and content. HyphaMetrics said one of its upcoming products will employ proprietary panel technology. 

While the industry is in a hurry, some won’t want to move too fast. “It’s impossible to know how this will impact ratings levels,” Schimmel noted. “I think the market will ask for more time to prepare, being that they’re dealing with out of home viewing being in the currency now, and two major changes in two years might be too much.”