Nielsen Tells Networks it Doesn’t Need Another Audit

(Image credit: Nielsen)

Nielsen turned down a demand by its network and distributor clients for an independent audit of the way it measured TV viewing during the pandemic, saying its system is already thoroughly audited by the Media Rating Council.

The VAB, the trade group representing much of the broadcast and cable industry, claims the number of homes in Nielsen’s sample panel shrunk by 20% during the pandemic and that resulted in an undercount of people using television. 

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“Nielsen’s refusal to take any type of action, in the face of a research-backed request from its key industry stakeholders, is profoundly disappointing and a massive disservice to a TV marketplace that has had a stellar track record for collaboration and transparency,” said VAB CEO Sean Cunningham. “This response -- or lack thereof -- denying a third-party evaluation of its COVID data is a glaring negative outlier from the market’s currency provider and partner.”

Nielsen maintains that the shrinkage in its sample--resulting from not being able to visit sample homes in person--did not significantly impact its viewership numbers. And it said it has been clear with the VAB and its clients what steps it took during the pandemic to handle its sample homes and keep the quality of its estimates consistent.

"Third party auditing has always been a vital part of serving as the industry currency and our products undergo a comprehensive audit process with the Media Rating Council (MRC) on an annual basis. Nielsen's existing MRC audit process exists to ensure confidence and trust in the audience estimates we produce," Nielsen said in a statement.

"We have been clear and transparent with the MRC and our clients on every change in protocol we needed to make during COVID to keep our people and panelists safe. The decisions we made adhered to Federal, State and Local government guidelines as well as at the recommendation of medical experts," the ratings company said.

Nielsen added that it conducted its own assessment of the drivers of the reported audience estimates in the white paper it shared with the VAB and the industry last week.

“Our work with the MRC, the independent body created for this very reason, is ongoing and should serve the purpose of an independent audit. Since VAB members are also MRC members, they should feel free to engage directly with the MRC. A single third party audit is the best approach for the industry and we will work closely with the MRC on all audit requests," Nielsen said.

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.