The TV industry’s most popular yardstick remains broken — at least for now.

Nielsen’s long-utilized national TV ratings have yet to regain industry backing after the measurement giant asked to cancel a meeting slated to take place Monday where it was supposed to demonstrate its efforts to improve its ability to count TV viewers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Nielsen on November 9 asked to postpone a November 14 meeting of the audit committee of the Media Rating Council, this person says. MRC, an industry watchdog, holds measurement organizations to standards on behalf of the media sector. Nielsen was scheduled to outline how it had upgraded its technology that gauges TV audiences. MRC suspended its accreditation for Nielsen’s national ratings in September of 2021, citing findings that showed Nielsen had undercounted viewership during the coronavirus pandemic due to lapses in surveillance of its technology. A communication to TV networks regarding the postponed committee meeting said Nielsen had shown “material non-compliance,” this person said.

“It is profoundly disappointing that someone has shared a confidential document that presents only one side of the story of our ongoing engagement on Nielsen’s National TV service,:” said David Gunzerath, senior vice president and associate director of the MRC, in a statement sent Saturday. “While it is true the existing suspension of MRC accreditation remains in place at the current time, it is also true that we believe Nielsen has made significant progress on most of the issues that led to that suspension, and MRC continues to actively work with Nielsen on a path to address the remaining issues so that a consideration of reinstatement of accreditation to the National TV service may occur relatively soon.”

A Nielsen spokeswoman referred a query to the MRC. A spokesman for the MRC was unable to comment on whether Nielsen asked to postpone or cancel a November 14 meeting or on communications between the MRC committee and its members. The status of Nielsen’s suspension was previously reported by Ad Age.

Revelation of the canceled meeting is the latest salvo in a months-long joust between TV networks and the company that has long tabulated its viewership, and is the latest sign of the desperate need of the TV industry to find a new source of measurement as its audiences light out for digital territory. The TV networks, eager to demonstrate to Madison Avenue that they still have clout with viewers who are moving to streaming outlets, alleged in 2021 that Nielsen changed protocols during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in an undercounting of the TV audience.

While Nielsen has pledged to rectify the matter, the networks have not been satisfied. Indeed, many of them started working with a slate of measurement upstarts, including iSpot, Comscore and VideoAmp, and made deals in the industry’s recent upfront market that included benchmarks based on those companies’ findings. NBCUniversal said in June, for example, that more than 40% of its upfront deals relied on things other than traditional age and gender parameters, compared with about 20% last year.

Even with the suspension in place, Nielsen has begun crafting measurement deals with a host of the networks’ digital rivals. In recent weeks, Nielsen has unveiled pacts that have it keeping tabs on audiences for Alphabet’s YouTube TV; Netflix’s new ad-supported subscription tier; and Amazon Prime Video’s “Thursday Night Football.” In March, Nielsen agreed to be taken under private ownership by a group led by Evergreen Coast Capital Corporation, an affiliate of activist fund Elliott Investment Management L.P., which has been lobbying for a Nielsen sale, and Brookfield Business Partners L.P., in a deal that called for an all-cash deal of $16 billion.
Just as Nielsen often clashes with its TV partners over audience counts, it has found itself at odds with Amazon over just how many people are watching the e-commerce giant’s new streaming version of the NFL’s Thursday matches. Nielsen’s count of audience is lower than the outlet’s — a difference of tabulation that will have an effect on how much advertisers will be willing to pay to appear alongside the pigskin showcase.

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