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Nielsen Says COVID-19 Has Disrupted Local Rating Panels

Nielsen accreditation covid Media Rating Council
Accreditation of Nielsen's local ratings services has been put on hiatus (Image credit: Nielsen)

Nielsen said its local ratings service is now not accredited because the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted its ability to manage the panels it uses to measure what viewers are watching.

The Media Rating Council accreditation of Nielsen's local people meter and set meter service in large- and mid-sized markets has been put on “hiatus” while the company develops new ways to recruit and maintain its panels. Nielsen’s system for measuring viewership in the smallest markets is not MRC accredited.

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Before COVID, Nielsen families were recruited in person and technicians were able to enter their homes to install and monitor equipment. The pandemic has made people less willing to have people in their homes.

The MRC said that a hiatus usually lasts six months, but can be extended for an additional six months. MRC accreditation assures advertisers, who use the ratings as a basis for buying commercials on local TV stations, that measurement systems are sound in methodology and execution. During the hiatus, Nielsen will not be able to use the double check mark seal that indicates the ratings service is accredited.

In June, Nielsen announced that its local people meter service and set meter service had been granted continued accreditation by the MRC. That followed Nielsen announcing in October 2019 that it was enhancing its ratings by adding data from its portable people meters to its local measurement service

“The hiatus will provide the time required to transform the way we manage our panels, from a fully in-person model to one that relies on remote techniques, and improve the overall performance of the sample,” a Nielsen spokesman said.

“This time will not only allow us to invest in and expedite our planned enhancements but also to continue to find solutions that allow our panels to remain robust while also prioritizing the health and safety of our panelists and associates,” the Nielsen spokesman said. “We fully expect to resume accreditation at the end of the hiatus period. Nielsen stands behind the quality of its local television audience measurement service and we will continue to operate in a manner that will provide our clients with the industry-leading, high quality data and insights they are accustomed to receiving.” 

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Nielsen’s issues arise as its chief rival in the local rating business, Comscore has announced deals that eliminate its debt and give it extended and enhanced access to viewer data from cable giants Charter Communications and Comcast.

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Nielsen said that the accreditation hiatus does not impact its national ratings. Nielsen announced plans to make big changes in its national ratings in order to measure linear, digital and over-the-top viewing in a more consistent measure. 

Part of that plan to launch Nielsen One includes creating a unified One Panel. Nielsen said it will unify its panels and meters into one single source, geographically representative panel that will gather viewing across devices including TV, CTV, mobile devices and computers. 

Recruiting and equipping that panel will be different from the current procedures, according to Scott N. Brown, general manager, audience measurement at Nielsen.. 

“You’re asking people to do more,” Brown said in a December interview. “How does our recruitment strategy change to get more people to say ‘yes,’ given that we’re asking them to do more.”

Nielsen has not yet begun discussing those changes in the national panel with the Media Rating Council according to George Ivie, CEO and executive director of the Media Rating Council.

Ivie said that companies like Nielsen can request a hiatus when they run into circumstances that impact their ability to be audited or the quality of their service that are known to be temporary.

“It’s kind of a big deal. It doesn’t happen very often at all, but this is a very unusual time,” he said.

‘In the case of Nielsen, they’ve run into challenges in the maintenance of their panels because of COVID and other issues,” Ivie said. “We are actively working with Nielsen as they bring new processes that might be more remote oriented and more resilient to the COVID situation into their methodology.”

Ivie added that even before the COVID pandemic hit in early 2020, the MRC was working with Nielsen on a Panel Health Plan of new procedures Nielsen was trying to implement to benefit their panel representation and the efficacy of their panels.

If COVID persists and Nielsen doesn’t make changes, Nielsen’s national panel could be impacted as well, Ivie said. “It’s really important that Nielsen work on this stuff.”

Ivie noted that Comscore’s local TV service is not audited. “We are very hopeful that they bring that into the audit process sooner rather than later.”