Sons (And Daughters) Of Lethargy?

I’m a passionate advocate of research, and I’ve spent decades running staffs, negotiating literally billions of dollars of business with providers and clients, and garnering relationships and even some friendships with many I’ve dealt with.

But being that I’ve spent most of that time outside of New York, and largely less involved in day-to-day negotiations with advertisers, agencies and brands, I’ve never really had the perspective of those who have been more in the day-to-day trenches of the hard sell.  My experiences were mostly limited to higher-level meetings where the people in charge of those on the firing lines would try to assimilate the feedback they’d get from their teams into our conversations about process, procedure and currency.

Being that I started my career in the last vestiges of the agency world and era best depicted by MAD MEN, in the New York I was raised in, unlike many of my peers without such background I had at leaat an appreciation for the movitations of what drove the priorities of those whose careers are strictly spent in negotiations.  Often, at conferences where representatives from outside entertainment and measurement companies would convene, such as the ANAs and 4As, I’d seek out those who I didn’t know; sometimes, we’d be placed together in breakout groups to discuss how we’d collectively tackle bigger picture issues.

So I speak from actual experience when I see news items like this from yesterday’s trades and can’t help but furrow my brow.  As the veteran New York-based observer Jon Lafayette from BROADCASTING AND CABLE reported:

The Media Rating Council on Monday said that it reinstated the accreditation of Nielsen’s national television audience measurement (TAM) service, the system Nielsen is planning to replace with Nielsen One, its new multiplatform measurement system.

Nielsen lost the accreditation for its legacy system during the pandemic, when an inability to visit panel homes led to the sample size shrinking and Nielslen undercounting viewership. That added volume to complaints that Nielsen’s methodology was inadequate and antiquated as TV plunged into the streaming era.

The Media Rating Council noted that Nielsen One and Nielsen’s local-market ratings service remain unaccredited. Also not accredited are Nielsen’s Digital Ad Ratings, the upcoming integration of certain return path and ACR data into The TAM service.

The MRC said all of those Nielsen products and services are in various stages of MRC audit.

Going into the upfront, Nielsen will be the only  major audience measurement service accredited by the MRC, which could be a factor as more media companies look to do deals based on Nielsen alternatives including, Comscore, VideoAmp and  605.

Nielsen has undertaken strong efforts to correct the issues that led to its loss of MRC accreditation 19 months ago and to restore key aspects of its panel performance.  The MRC’s audit has shown these efforts have been successful, and as a result, our TV Committee and Board agreed that accreditation should be reinstated,” said George Ivie, executive director and CEO of the MRC.

“That said, there is still more work to be done both in the near and long term to ensure Nielsen’s National TAM measurements continue to meet our standards and the requirements of the industry,” Ivie said.

Now I’ve had the good fortune to have met and even shared a few drinks with Ivie, who’s been at this just about as long as yours truly.  Often, those would be shared with the folks from those agencies and brands, worlds which Ivie’s prior history as a partner at Ernst and Young more frequently interacted with than did mine.  And when I’d share my passion from the perspective of someone who believed in the pursuit of insights and audience feedback and the champion of creatives, eye-rolling was the order of the day,

“Honestly, we just wanna show some sort of proof of performance, and show our management we at least tried to do our best”, I’d be told.  “We don’t make money on anything other than sales–what good is it to show anyone any data that reflects intent to view or purchase?”  “I don’t pay for anything or anyone other than the demos that have the most upside”.  “All I really care about is posting out on a buy”.

George Ivie himself never uttered those specific words, to the best of my recollection.  But he sure agreed with words like those that his social companions shared.  Vehemently.

What I see from a more detached post these days is a polarized world where networks and streamers are in constant pursuit of more inclusive alternatives such as the ones that Lafayette specified.  The more progressive research and analytics executives at larger companies are championing the inclusion and acceptance of those alternatives.  The competition that Nielsen is facing from those insurgents–let alone self-supporting platforms like Netflix with what they profess to be superior metrics to any third party, albeit proprietary and with only public-facing data that tangentially references relative performance to historical benchmarks–appears to be driving whatever attempts they continue to make toward evolving their product line into something somewhat more reflective of 21st century media measurement than 20th.

I also know Nielsen has once again been taken private, and has billions of dollars of recent investment in its brand at stake.   As we head into an upfront season in the midst of unprecedented splintering, at a time where a recession and several production strikes are looming, and where simply getting people into the same room at the same time remains a culture war challenge where more companies than not simply kowtow to the whims of detached work-from-homers, content with the illusion that virtual negotiations and communications are effective and foster progress.

So I just can’t help but wonder if the timing of the reaccreditation of a company and a methodology that four years and one pandemic ago was deemed as outdated, before several of the more ambitious streaming services launched, before significant drops in penetration levels for traditionally distributed networks and distribution methods occurred, before the proliferation of screens currently NOT measured by the service that the MRC just suddenly reinstated, with timing so close to the start of such a crucial negotiating season, might, just might, been a compromise more than an endorsement?

Lafayette’s report went on to include a statement from current Nielsen  Audience Measurement CEO Karthik Rao:

“As the industry demands measurement that is trusted, independent and founded on real viewing from real people, we continue to support the MRC guidelines that set the standard for quality, audited measurement.  “It’s our daily mission to maintain our methodologies at the highest standard so that our clients can trade with confidence well into the future. We thank our clients for their trust and for pushing us to get better. At Nielsen, we believe the accreditation process has made us stronger as we’ve evolved our panel strategy and quality measures, and inspired new automation technologies and approaches to ensurethat our service remains consistent and reliable,” Rao said.

Now I honestly do believe that Rao, heading into his first upfront as CEO, is at least somewhat sincere in his mission statement.  There’s too much at stake for the industry, let alone his company and, likely, his payout for one to suspect otherwise.

But it sure sounds a lot like the kind of can-kicking rhetoric that the agency, advertiser and brand braintrust would offer Ivie in the day.  The ones that represent a significant percentage of Nielsen’s revenue.  And, for that matter, the MRC’s.

So is the news of TAM’s reaccredidation supposed to be taken as a sign of progress toward the kind of necessary change those that are trying to navigate media companies, particularly ones who are more tech-driven that are as likely to embrace the kind of frankenmetrics such as Parrot Analytics as being an accurate barometer, are seeking to implement?

Or merely some sort of stopgap placeholder as the debate rages on, with the clock and the lives of far too many already displaced hanging in the balance?

I’m not sure.  But I know I’d love to find a way to break bread with the likes of Ivie and Rao once again to find out.

And, frankly, you both seem like you need a little help.  Need I remind you there’s plenty of us out there more than willing to offer it, and you’d probably be surprised how affordable we might be.

I’m free for lunch.  Are you?

Until next time…

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