Tuesday, August 18

Measuring Impact: Nielsen

In May 2008, fans of a cancelled television program, Jericho, dumped more than 4,000 pounds of peanuts on the doorstep of Nielsen Media Research. Shipping peanuts had become the statement of choice for the fans, who had secured a truncated second season after sending more than 20 tons to CBS.

But the nuts sent to Nielsen were different. The statement wasn't a call to action as much as it was a measure of their displeasure with the people who control what people watch based exclusively on the viewing habits of a shrinking few. They blame a flawed and antiquated rating system for the demise of the series. And they are not the only ones to feel that way.

This week, there was more talk about dumping. And this time, fans of television shows weren't talking. According to the New York Times, it is the owners of the four major broadcast networks; cable channel operators, including Viacom and Discovery; three of the country’s biggest-spending advertisers, Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Unilever; and two of the biggest advertising agency holding companies, GroupM and the Starcom MediaVest Group unit of the Publicis Groupe. And the conversation did not include dumping peanuts as much as it included dumping Nielsen.

Nielsen, which possesses a monopoly on the rating system for television, would not comment. It has been trying to prove its ability to catch up on the measurement curve for years, with plans that it once said would take five years or even a decade to execute.

But times have changed. It only took Facebook nine months to add 100 million members and Apple to celebrate 1 billion application downloads for the iPhone. In terms of communication, especially social media, we frequently talk in terms of what can be accomplished in 90 or 180 days. So it's no surprise that words from the CEO of Nielsen say old world to many of them.

"Innovation is a process," says Dave Calhoun. "And it has to be a well-defined process."

Translation: It will take a long time. And it may take long enough that the opening of his story in Fortune last year might not read as funny as it did then. Not much has changed. If anything, it has gotten worse outside and inside as indicated from this internal memo sent to employees after the Financial Times had broke the story (hat tip: James Hibberd's The Live Feed)...

"As you know, our Company is committed to measuring across all screens – known in the industry as “three screens”: television, computer and mobile – as part of our long-term strategy. Over the last three years, we’ve invested more than a billion dollars in research and development as part of this effort. As with all of our measurement science, we’re working closely with our clients, whose input and engagement has been consistent and constructive.

You may have read the Financial Times article published late last week, or the subsequent articles appearing in a number of publications over the weekend, about the potential formation of a new three-screen consortium. While our Company policy is not to respond to speculation or future announcements, we have been in direct contact with many of our clients, including some cited in the original article. Much of what was reported by the Financial Times remains unclear, and many of our clients are themselves looking for answers to questions raised by the story. What is clear, however, is that three-screen measurement is at the center of our strategy. Just as clear is the commitment of some of our largest clients who have recently renewed multi-year contracts with us for television, online, mobile and other measurement services.

We continue to move forward helping our clients understand and measure media consumption anytime, anywhere."

Of course, nobody would have understand media measurement if, you know, Nielsen could count everyone. You know, like Arbitron (no, not seriously).


Anonymous said...

Great article Rich and nice to see Nielsen finally being held accountable.



Anonymous said...

Great article Rich, spot on as usual. Good to see Nielsen be served some reality pie 2009.


Neptune Rising on 8/19/09, 8:26 PM said...

I totally missed all this news and would like to learn more about it, can you point me in the right direction Rich?
I have to wonder though if the four major networks are saying this just because they aren't reportedly getting the numbers that they use to have.
I wonder if the networks think they made mistakes cancelling some of the shows that they have?
Great article Rich, as you can tell it give me much to ponder :)

Neptune Rising

Rich on 8/20/09, 7:02 AM said...


Sure, if you missed the link in the post, you can find the New York Times story here.

I am sure they know that they have made mistakes with some show cancellations. Any time you skew the decision making process to a few people in concentrated localities, you are virtually certain to make mistakes.

Hope you are well.

@Norsu and K6

I am sure Jericho fans are thrilled to find them on the fence for once. The internal communication damage must have been epic to release that kind of memo.

This will be interesting to watch.

All my best,

Anonymous said...

Love it !!!!! Nielsen for a long time has not been right and over the years especially the last ten have really help drive away viewers like myself from watching network TV. Last two really good original shows were FireFly and Jericho

Bonnie Parrish-Kell said...

Yes, innovation is a process but if one waits until the idea is perfectly created and executed, it will be more than antiquated!

My sense from Dave Calhoun's statement is that the folks at Nielsen have no clue as to how to measure new media effectively, accurately and fairly. This will be the company's downfall.

Question is: who's ready to take their place?

Anonymous said...

Artzylady says...

It's about time that Nielsen has to face their shortcomings! I just love that this is finally happening to them. NUTS is correct!

Rich on 8/21/09, 8:33 AM said...


It seems to me the industry is ready to form it's own coalition. Some people have equated this to allowing the fox guard the hen house.

However, I don't think so. If any measuring organization consists of every network, it would be in their best interest to keep each other honest.


Anonymous said...

Well I think it is about time that they should do some changing. The Golden Days of TV are gone and this antiquated way of measuring should have gone too. For gosh sakes it is the 21 cenury not the 50's 60's and 70's. I know these days I spend more time on my computer than watching any programming these days. Jericho was the last show I made sure I was there live everytime but I know I was never counted

susan-gator said...

Great job Rich. Directv has been tracking viewing habits of customers for several months now. Wondering how they are going to figure into the new mix. Nielsen is on its last breath.....and I for one am happy. I'm sick of great shows being canceled because Nielsen's 5-10,000 families "don't watch". Time for accuracy. NTN!!! Go Jericho Rangers!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great Article!! It is about time!!


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