Nielsen Enlists Disney, Interpublic Group, in New Bid to Count Audiences Across Screens

Don’t count Nielsen out as the media industry scrambles to find new ways to tabulate audiences increasingly making their way to venues other than a traditional TV set.

The media measurement giant, whose work serves as the bedrock for most TV-advertising deals, intends to launch new technology that can provide so-called “cross screen” viewership of video content that might appear on traditional TV or on new digital screens, whether they be desktop, mobile, or streaming. While the “Nielsen One” framework won’t be fully implemented until December of next year, Disney and Interpublic Group’s Magna, the large media investment firm, are among ten companies that will provide early feedback in the interim.

“We are focused on what the vast majority of the industry wants to be able to offer — transparency, efficiency, accredited metrics,” says Karthik Rao, Nielsen’s chief operating officer, in an interview. Nielsen expects to debut its new framework at CES early next year, though the data will not be released publicly until the official launch as currency at the end of 2022.

The announcement shows Nielsen working to maintain its relationships with TV networks and advertisers as many of them have begun developing alternatives to its well-used services to count audiences flocking to ad-supported streaming outlets like Hulu, Pluto and Peacock. Nielsen has been under scrutiny for months, with the networks deriding its ability to count traditional TV audiences during the pandemic.

Many sector stalwarts, including NBCUniversal, Univision and WarnerMedia, have said they intend to offer new ways to measure viewership, working with measurement rivals including VideoAmp, Comscore and Open AP. ViacomCBS and large media investment units of Dentsu intend to start doing transactions next quarter using non-traditional criteria Nielsen has said it sees a need to move faster and has also started to overhaul the way it counts viewership of individual commercials, a bedrock element of the currency of TV advertising deals.

Disney intends to join in Nielsen’s new “Nielsen One Alpha” program “to ensure it accurately creates a holistic view of ad performance and content viewership for the industry,” says Julie DeTraglia, head of research, insights and analytics for, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, in a statement. Magna, which helps marketers allocate ad dollars, intends to “ensure it delivers on its promise of being a truly holistic cross-screen measurement solution,” said Brian Hughes, executive vice president and managing director of audience intelligence and strategy, for the Interpublic Group company, in a statement.

Nielsen and the networks have been engaged in a protracted showdown over whether the measurement giant can count TV crowds correctly amid the industry’s rapid move to streaming video. In May, the MRC, a little-known body formed at the behest of the U.S. government in the wake of TV’s quiz-show scandals in the 1950s to maintain measurement standards for the media and advertising industries, found Nielsen had, in fact, undercounted TV viewers earlier this year. The group subsequently revoked its accreditation of Nielsen’s national and local ratings services.

While the measurements remain in place and are still widely used, loss of the industry’s seal of approval has given rivals impetus to test new audience-counting methodologies. Many media and advertising executives say they expect the industry to do ad deals based on a wider variety of currencies, not just Nielsen’s data.

Executives at Nielsen say they have long contended with rivals offering measurement services and will continue to do so. “Our job is to provide the most comprehensive form of coverage,” says Rao.

He was unable to provide an estimate as to when Nielsen might regain accreditation from the MRC, noting that Nielsen does not control when that group votes and makes decisions. “We have the list of issues from the TV committee” of the MRC, says Rao. “We are already making tremendous progress against many of them.”

But the company’s ability to secure so many participants in its early launch suggests Nielsen still retains some advantages. Nielsen has reigned for decades because many top advertisers have called for a neutral third party to count consumers attracted to a particular media property. Winning accreditation is a complex task, as is developing the broad infrastructure that broad audience measurement requires and may require investment the networks and agencies don’t want to make.

There has been some speculation among media executives that the networks are making an aggressive bid to counter Nielsen as a means of getting better terms in their ongoing contract talks with the measurement giant. The media companies pay Nielsen millions of dollars a year for its services, and feel they aren’t getting full value.

Nielsen’s Rao appeared sanguine about the company’s prospects as the business of TV grows more complex. The new framework “is very aligned with what the advertisers want,” he says.

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