NBCU: Nielsen's Total Content Ratings Not Ready

Related: Nielsen December Forecast Sees Bigger Pay-TV Decline

NBCUniversal has asked Nielsen to delay its planned launch of its Total Content Ratings product, calling it incomplete and inconsistent in its current form.

In a letter to Nielsen sent earlier this week, Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships at NBCU, says the entire industry wants a system that counts all viewing with accuracy and transparency.

"TCR is far from meeting these requirements and its premature syndicated release is irresponsible. We are eager to collaborate with Nielsen and other industry participates to improve TCR and determine a reasonable, appropriate launch timeline," Yaccarino said in the letter, obtained by B&C. "Some say, 'something is better than nothing.' We disagree. Bad, inaccurate and misleading data is far worse than no data at all."

TV networks have seen their ratings decline in recent years, partly because more viewers are watching ads on digital devices and that viewing is not included in the ratings currently used to buy and sell advertising.

Related: Fans Rate RSNs as Key Channels in Bundle

Both Nielsen and comScore are working on new ratings systems designed to try to count all viewing and some networks and media agencies would like to use a total audience measurement metric during the 2017 upfront.

Nielsen said it stands behind Total Content Ratings.

"Total Content Ratings is on schedule to syndicate data on March 1st at which time Nielsen clients will be able to use the data for external purposes. Up until this time, the data being released to publishers and, subsequently, to agencies is for internal evaluation only," Nielsen said in a statement.

But in her letter, Yaccarino ticks off problems that would keep Total Content Ratings from measuring a significant amount of viewing.

She says it doesn't yet have participation from many pay-TV operators and digital video distributors like Hulu. She says it counts only some over-the-top viewership and uses a panel to measure video on demand when census-level measurement is required.

Its process for measuring digital video sources like YouTube uses a mix of methodologies that have not been vetted and fails to take into account digital fraud, viewability or completion rates. It also does not measure out-of-home viewing

Related: Analyst: TV Viewing Up With OTT Growth

"The media industry is in dire need of clear and comprehensive total audience measurement. As such we strongly agree with the objective of Nielsen's Total Content Ratings product, to create a comprehensive measurement capturing viewership across all platforms and devices," Yaccarino said.

"However, TCR in its current form fails to deliver on this objective and does much more harm than good. TCR lacks the consistency and transparency the marketplace demands and expects from Nielsen. Bottom line, it's not ready for release."

Nielsen said that it has been working with publishers to implement parts of Total Content Ratings and Digital Content Ratings since January of 2016.

"Currently, dozens of TV and digital media brands are enabled for TV, VOD or Digital measurement inside of Nielsen's Total Audience measurement framework. Nielsen does not stipulate which measurements clients should enable, nor the order in which they should enable them. Total Audience Measurement is designed to provide media owners with utmost flexibility to enable the components based on their business priorities," Nielsen said.

"Since the beginning of the year, Nielsen has met regularly with members of our Senior Research Council, which is comprised of 25 of our largest television and agency clients, to discuss the implementation and rollout of Nielsen's Total Audience measurement system. We continue to enhance and refine our product with ongoing updates as we work with clients during this period of evaluation. Nielsen is working across business functions with our clients during this period of evaluation. We do not underestimate the importance of the rigor of this work, as clients use our metrics to make decisions on content, programming, distribution, and as a currency for ad planning and settlement," Nielsen said.

In January, Yaccarino blasted TV's measurement system during a speech at CES, saying it threatened the future of ad-supported premium content.

"The C3 rating tells you nothing. It's practically useless," she said. In order to measure the value of content, the TV industry "needs an accurate gauge of total audience performance."

She said Nielsen undercounts TV audiences by between 15% and 35%, which costs a show like NBC's Blindspot 700,000 viewers each week.

And for those "wrong and inaccurate numbers we have to wait three weeks," she added.

Yaccarino noted at the time that Nielsen was coming out with a new total audience metric but said "we have some questions about the methodology."

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.