TV Ratings Data Giant Nielsen Battles Comscore Technology
As smartphones, mobile tablets and broadband-connected TVs gain more consumer acceptance, audiences are increasingly able to stream their TV favorites on demand, making the task of counting ratings exponentially more difficult.
TV networks have long based their advertising rates on Nielsen’s measure of linear TV audiences, which have slipped as consumers embrace Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other streaming and on-demand options.
Furthermore, many industry executives continue to have serious issues with Nielsen as they see ad dollars dwindle and audiences migrate to less measurement-friendly platforms. At the same time, TV networks are aggressively pursuing partnerships in set-top boxes and smart TVs to sell highly targeted, addressable ads and using the data collected from direct relationship with viewers on OTT platforms to optimize dynamic ad insertion capability. As consumer habits change and technology advances, TV networks are finding new ways to monetize audiences beyond Nielsen’s linear capabilities.
Capitalizing on Nielsen’s inability to track the viewing habits of those who don’t watch live TV, Comscore is emerging as the source for viewership data. Comscore’s ability to measure cross-platform audiences through a set-top box installed in homes arguably gives a more accurate glimpse into the types of media viewers are consuming compared to Nielsen’s antiquated diary system.
Large media companies like CBS, Gray Television, and Nexstar Media Group are taking notice. CBS held off on renewing its contract with Nielsen for nearly two weeks past the original expiration of Dec. 31, 2018. It wasn’t until Jan. 11 that the network and data company came to an agreement. During the negotiations battle, CBS said it wasn’t without options to get access to rating data, utilizing one of “the many viable alternatives available to us, including Comscore.”
Media groups argue that homes across the country are streaming billions of hours of video from platforms like Netflix and Hulu – none of which are accounted for by Nielsen to help create accurate ad pricing. And, if it can’t be measured, then it can’t be sold.
Comscore’s proactive approach to the measurement dilemma is Xmedia, which measures cross-media audiences, include television, mobile, and desktop. It’s touted as “the first-ever syndicated product to combine TV and digital audience metrics.” CNN partnered with Comscore to use Xmedia and built cross-media advertising packages based on the data.
Media Companies Switch to Comscore
The battle between Nielsen and Comscore wages far beyond CNN. In June 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced it would rely solely on Comscore for TV ratings in 2018. While the country’s largest broadcast media group ultimately renewed a multi-year deal with Nielsen seven months later, Sinclair isn’t the only company to consider using Comscore exclusively for results data.
Nexstar Media Group, set to overtake Sinclair as the nation’s largest media group with the $4 billion purchase of Tribune Media, will drop Nielsen in some markets. Reports confirm that certain stations, like WIVB-TV and sister station WNLO-TV in Buffalo, NY, under the Nexstar umbrella, will discontinue Nielsen services in 2019.
For the Western New York television market, Comscore simply offers more data. The Buffalo News reports Comscore surveys an estimated 300,000 households in the Designated Market Area via satellite and cable boxes. Comparatively, Nielsen samples 400 homes with its diary system. In theory, Comscore should offer more accurate ratings for the Buffalo market.
Gray Television, which will emerge as the third largest media group in the country when its $3.65 billion purchase of Raycom Media is complete, also plans to dump Nielsen. The original Gray stations, which span 57 markets, ended their contracts with Nielsen on December 31. While some Raycom-owned stations still subscribe to the Nielsen system, it’s likely many of those contracts will end when the two media groups complete their merger.
In an email reportedly sent to ad agencies by Gray Vice President of National Sales Becky Meyer, the media company reveals why it dropped Nielsen. Meyer writes, “[Gray] does not have sufficient confidence in [Nielsen’s] new methodology.”
What’s Not Working With Nielsen?
While there are still more than 186 million adults in America who pay for television service, viewers are spending less time watching any one program. Instead, they’re watching multiple programs each viewing session. The fragmentation creates a unique ratings-gathering problem for Nielsen. Small sample sizes – like the 850 that represent all of Phoenix – may not generate reliable data.
For low-rated programs, Nielsen often attributes zero viewers because the sampled 850 television viewers (or the number that actually return the diaries) don’t document that they view the program. Explaining to potential advertisers that you have zero viewers makes for a very tough sell to advertisers. Despite Nielsen’s commitment to increase its sample size in large markets, it still collects far less data than its competitor.
Comscore monitors viewer habits in 545,000 homes in Phoenix. For those viewers watching television through a set-top box, Comscore is collecting anonymous data around the clock. Even the lowest rated shows receive data, helping Comscore customers sell their product to a target audience.
Battle for the Top
As Nielsen and Comscore battle to gain the trust of media companies and buyers, it’s clear there’s strong interest in the latter’s model. Nielsen continues to lose – or threaten to be dropped by – multiple high-dollar clients. Comscore continues to grow, expanding its household TV viewing tracking reach to 69 million televisions in more than 31 million US homes.
Nielsen, the legendary TV ratings giant, has reached an estimated 100 countries in its 95 years as a company. Comscore boasts a presence in more than 70 countries in just two decades of existence. As activist Maggie Kuhn once said, “Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” It appears Comscore is steadying the crosshairs.
Market data and research are crucial through every step of a media campaign. It fuels every media and marketing strategy. It will be interesting to see how these two giants continue to serve the marketplace.
Van Mylar, VP or Client Strategy and Growth at Vision40 Media put it simply. “We believe that when reviewing media research, it is vital to look beyond the linear data and dig deeper for insights affecting outcomes.” Our beliefs at Vision40 Media is to value and review all media research resources available to ensure media strategies are performing to the metrics identified.