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NBCUniversal selects audience measurement alternative to Nielsen

A peacock sculpture outside Comcast headquarters at Rockefeller Center

NBCUniversal will use iSpot.tv data to gauge how many people watch programs and commercials across both conventional TV and streaming platforms.
(Peacock)

NBCUniversal, the media company most critical of the audience measurement data it receives from Nielsen, is testing an alternative service next month to track viewing of the Olympics and the Super Bowl.

The company announced today it will use data from iSpot.tv, a Bellevue, Wash.-based company that measures audiences across linear TV and streaming platforms to provide viewing information on the two major events next month. Publicis Media, which owns several major ad-buying companies, has agreed to participate in the test with several of its clients.

NBCUniversal remains a client of Nielsen and will use its ratings as well for the events. But the test with iSpot.tv — which has a multi-year deal to provide its services to NBCU — will be the most high-profile effort to promote a viable competitor to Nielsen, long the dominant provider of data used to determine pricing for the $70 billion in commercial time that advertisers buy annually.

NBCUniversal said in a statement that it hopes to use iSpot.tv’s data to determine rates for the spring’s upfront selling season, when the bulk of commercial inventory for the 2022-23 TV season will be sold. The data will provide NBCU with a metric that will tell how many people watched programs and commercials across both conventional TV and streaming platforms.

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Rationalizing the multibillion-dollar investment NBCU has in the Olympics has become more difficult in recent years as traditional TV viewing of the events has declined dramatically. But NBCU executives have maintained that consumers have been watching more of the events because of the wide array of offerings on its streaming apps. The network is hoping the data from iSpot.tv will help make that case.

Established in 2012, iSpot.tv’s services are already used by half of the top 100 television and video advertisers.

“This is not a shift away from one panel-based system to another, but a definitive step toward embracing the metrics brands already use to evaluate media companies,” said Kelly Abcarian, executive vice president, Measurement & Impact, NBCUniversal Advertising and Partnerships, said in a statement. “Our learnings from this partnership will help transform our measurement solutions as we head into the next upfront season and bring advertisers more data that accurately reflects our audiences, their consumption habits and campaign impact.”

Media companies say the research firm cost them big money during the pandemic. Nielsen’s chief executive David Kenny responds.

Media companies have long groused about the veracity of Nielsen’s data, which are largely compiled through its panel of 40,000 homes across the country. But tensions have escalated in recent years as TV networks have seen their business upended by the TV audience’s rapid adaptation to streaming video.

Major Nielsen customers were upset last year over difficulties Nielsen had in updating its panel, as COVID-19 protocols prevented its personnel from entering the homes of participants. The number of people using television in the 18-49 age group advertisers care about most was undercounted by 2%, which networks said cost them millions of dollars in ad sales.

In an interview with The Times last month, Nielsen Chief Executive David Kenny said his company could have communicated the issues it had with COVID-19 sooner, but was not able to fully determine the impact.

As for streaming, Kenny said the company now measures streaming activity in about half of the homes in its panel and will cover the entire group by the end of the year.


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