CBS Stations Head Wendy McMahon Objects to Nielsen Broadband-Only Plan

Wendy McMahon, president & co-head, CBS News & Television Stations
Wendy McMahon, president & co-head, CBS News and Stations (Image credit: CBS)

Wendy McMahon, president and co-head of ViacomCBS’s CBS News and Stations unit, has sent a letter to Nielsen objecting to the audience measurement firm’s plan to include broadband-only homes in its local ratings.

The complaint adds to a chorus of criticism for Nielsen, which is already under fire for undercounting viewers and under pressure from an industry that is accelerating the search for alternatives to Nielsen, which has long dominated the ratings business.

Also: In New Error, Nielsen Admits It Left Out Some Out-Of-Home Viewing

As more consumers turn to streaming, Nielsen has been forced to make adjustments in the ways it measures viewing. One change is to include homes that have broadband internet service only, instead of TV households.

Local stations worry the system will lead to lower ratings for pay TV and over-the-air broadcasts.

“ViacomCBS strongly objects to the integration of All Broadband Only homes into the Nielsen Local Panels as of January 2022,” McMahon letter says.

Nielsen has acknowledged undercounting local ratings during the past year, McMahon noted, adding that those problems have not yet been rectified. On top of that would come the broadband-only issue.

“Despite long-standing industry and MRC requests, Nielsen does not have defined Universe Estimates for these [broadband-only] homes. According to CBS’s analysis of first- and third-party research, Nielsen is overstating/over-representing BBO penetration,” McMahon said.  

“Nielsen’s previous requirements for a home to qualify as a BBO home in local were arbitrary and capricious. Nielsen now wants to remove the local viewing qualifiers altogether, impacting local broadcasters even more negatively,” she said.

McMahon said Nielsen has provided ViacomCBS with only a month’s worth of data to review. She said that was insufficient for generating estimates and projections that its stations can use to sell ads.

McMahon also said the Media Rating Council had cited “serious deficiencies” with Nielsen’s plans at a recent audit meeting.

The MRC found that meters weren’t where they were supposed to be and that they were only 71% accurate. 

“There is nothing that we have seen so far that gives us confidence that Nielsen is ready to include BBO Homes into the local marketplace,” McMahon said. “The financial impact to our stations, based on the only impact data available to us, will be significant. We continue to request that Nielsen restore its local panels to acceptable quality levels prior to making major changes, such as the inclusion of all BBO homes.” ■

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.