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VAB Calls on Nielsen to Reverse OOH Delay

(Image credit: Jon Feingersh Photography Inc via Getty Images)

VAB, the trade group representing the biggest TV ad sales organizations, is calling on Nielsen to reverse its plan to delay the integration of out-of-home viewing into its national ratings.

In an "urgent" letter to Nielsen CEO David Kenny, VAB CEO Sean Cunningham said the VAB board disagreed with both the substance and the handling of the decision.

“We believe it puts all parties in the TV marketplace at an unnecessary disadvantage, and as one of your largest sets of Nielsen customers, we implore you to return to plan: with OOH viewing data fully integrated into a single stream of currency data without postponement or delay,” Cunningham’s letter said.

Sean Cunningham

Sean Cunningham (Image credit: VAB)

Nielsen began informing clients of the postponement due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday. The decision comes amid a particular chaotic upfront selling season for the TV industry amid a pandemic that disrupted many advertisers’ ad spending plans.

The move particularly hurts TV networks with sports programming, especially the NFL, which gets big chunks of viewing in bars, health clubs and hotels.

ViacomCBS, which airs NFL games, called Nielsen’s move “unacceptable and unjustifiable” in a statement late Thursday.

The VAB letter laid out three key objections to Nielsen’s decision to postpone adding out-of-home viewing to its ratings.

The first was that Nielsen’s out-of-home data has been stable, even though out-of-home viewing has been down during the pandemic. “Being ‘down’ cannot preclude it from integration into a single stream currency product . . . we do not see a methodological driver that could justify a ‘postponement,’ nor a need to change methodology.”

The VAB’s second point was that there was a contradiction between Nielsen’s decision not to include out-of-home data in its ratings, but to continue to make that out-of-home data available to the market as a currency on which advertising sales can be transacted. “You can’t have it both ways,” the letter said. “This is the type of demonstrated confusion and uncertainty that can have the effect of significantly eroding confidence in Nielsen as a third-party currency provider.”

The final point said that the decision was “an extremely bad surprise” for the top ad sales execs who make up the VAB board. “‘Blindsiding’ is perhaps the politest way of characterizing how under-communicated and contradictory” the decision was. The VAB noted that all of its members are in weekly conversations with Nielsen about topics including out of home viewing data and were stunned by the announcement.

“While this letter quickly conveys to you the need for Nielsen to REVERSE this morning’s announced ‘postponement’ on behalf of my Board leaders, you will certainly be hearing from them individually--I urge you to listen to your customers and have Nielsen act as a solution-provider in our marketplace and not an impediment,” Cunningham said.

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