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Nielsen Has National Ratings Accreditation Yanked by Media Rating Council

September 1, 2021 by Dan McCue
An estimated 84 million people tuned in to watch Lester Holt moderate the first televised presidential candidate debate between Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2020.

Nielsen, which for decades has been providing television ratings for everything from presidential debates and political conventions to nightly newscasts, was reeling Wednesday after a key industry organization pulled its support of the company’s services.

The Media Rating Council is a United States-based nonprofit organization that manages accreditation for media research and rating purposes.

Its decision to suspend the endorsement of Nielsen’s rating service stems from a long running dispute between the traditional television networks and Nielsen, a dust up exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The networks, desperate to show advertisers they still have clout with viewers when more and more viewers are turning to digital media, accused Nielson of changing its rating protocols during the pandemic leading to an undercounting of traditional television viewers.

In April, Nielsen flatly rejected a demand from the networks for an outside audit of its TV ratings for the past year. The networks had wanted the ratings company to submit its recent audience measurements to consultant Ernst & Young for an independent review.

But Nielsen said its practices are already regularly reviewed by the Media Rating Council and it saw no reason for a redundant review.

The first televised presidential debate of the 2020 election.

“Our work with the MRC, the independent body created for this very reason, is ongoing and should serve the purpose of an independent audit.”

Then in May, two shoes dropped. First, in a letter to clients, Nielsen admitted that “as a result of some of the COVID measures we implemented, we found that there was some understatement of audience estimates. The variance differed by daypart, demographic and program,” the company said.

A week later, the Media Rating Council, found a “generally consistent pattern of underreporting of viewing” in Nielsen’s reporting in February, 2021. More chilling to the networks, the MRC found viewership by people between 18 and 49, the audience most desired by advertisers by the traditional TV industry, may have been understated by as much as 6%.

In July, the VAB, a trade group that represents ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, Disney and Fox Corp., among others, sent a lengthy letter to the MediaRating Council, urging it to drop its support of Nielsen’s ratings.

“Nielsen’s COVID-period conduct as a ratings service violated at least five minimum standards,” the VAB said in its letter.

It went on to say that damage done to Nielsen’s largest clients is “still creating material negative impact into July 2021.”

On Wednesday, George W. Ivie, executive director and CEO of the Media Rating Council, said while the council was “disappointed that the situation has come to this, we believe these are the proper actions for the MRC to take at this time.

“MRC’s Board of Directors, which represents an extremely broad range of industry constituencies, and includes advertisers, agencies, and media companies of all types, is strongly unified in its positions on these matters,” Ivie’s statement continued. “MRC stands committed in our willingness to work with Nielsen toward the goal of being able to restore accreditation to these important services at the earliest possible time, and it is our hope that Nielsen likewise will continue to engage with MRC and its clients in pursuit of that goal.”

The decision goes into effect in mid-September. While the company’s measurement will still be able to be utilized, the lack of the Media Rating Council’s backing opens the door for others to get into the ratings measurement business.

Last month, anticipating the MRC’s decision, NBCUniversial unveiled plans to launch a new, independent measurement system for advertisers.

The Comcast-backed media conglomerate intends to wrap its search process for partners by Sept. 20, and will begin to integrate those companies’ data into a new product over the next six months.

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