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Networks Demand Nielsen Audit COVID-Related Viewing Shortfall

Sean Cunningham
Sean Cunningham (Image credit: Video Advertising Bureau)

Networks and distributors are demanding an audit of Nielsen, claiming that shrinkage of Nielsen’s panel during the COVID pandemic has resulted in undercounting the number of people using television.

The goal of the audit is to check the accuracy of Nielsen's numbers and how they were impacted by a 20% decline in number of homes participating in Nielsen's national TV panel

The VAB went public with its complaints last week and Nielsen responded that despite the drop in its sample size, its viewership numbers were not significantly impacted.

“I am conveying to you in the strongest possible terms the VAB’s profound dissatisfaction and concerns with Nielsen’s handling of our industry’s months-long urging for right-sized remedies to shortfall in the company’s COVID period TV usage and measurement data,” said Sean Cunningham, CEO of the VAB, the trade group representing networks and distributors, in a litter to Nielsen CEO David Kenny on Wednesday.

The VAB called on Nielsen to participate in an immediate third party audit by Ernst & Young, the auditor for the Media Rating Council. It also wants an audit by an independent third part auditor and a disclosure by Nielsen of a report on the 9,400 sample homes where Nielsen plans to resume in-house maintenance now that COVID restrictions have been relaxed.

“Nielsen is committed to providing reliable and accurate data to the media industry. We received VAB's letter and we are in the process of evaluating our next steps," Nielsen said Thursday.

Last week Nielsen published a blog post and a white paper that among other things notes a small change in the standard error for Nielsen’s ratings projections. Nielsen urged its ad selling and ad buying customers to take the standard error into account when conducting business.

The VAB called that response inadequate.

“Nielsen is the foundation for trading currency in the TV video ad marketplace, both the $40+ billion-dollar national TV buy/sell marketplace and the overall $65+ billion-dollar marketplace. With a fast approaching national TV “upfront,” the marketplace needs clear visibility into all COVID-period shortfalls and accurate overview of any exaggerated TV usage,” Cunningham said in his letter.

Because of the way Nielen data is intertwined with the advertising business “exaggerated multi-week or multi-quarter declines can produce a cascade of negative financial consequences,’ he said.

VAB has asked Nielsen to respond by April 19.

Jon Lafayette
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.