Upfronts Are Coming

It has been a pretty eventful week for my friends and aspirational colleagues at the Nielsen Company.

In the same week that their board rejected a buyout offer from Elliott Management that was reportedly $6 billion below the previously reported valuation, they were informed by the Media Rating Council that they still would not reinstate the company’s accredidation that had been suspended last September.

As Joe Mandese reported in MediaPost:

The “MRC and Nielsen recently reached agreement about the auditing that will be necessary prior to reconsideration of the accreditation statuses of these services,” the MRC’s update reads, adding, “While auditing of certain related areas already has been done, Nielsen’s remediation work will extend into Q2 2022, and therefore a complete audit report is not expected to be delivered to MRC until the end of Q3.  Additionally, an audit of Nielsen’s “Big Data” inputs to its future TV measurements is currently in process, with this audit report expected to be delivered to MRC in mid Q3.”

That statement contradicts ones made by Nielsen CEO David Kenny months ago that its services would once again be accredited soon, and coupled with the MRC’s updates for other services under review, reaffirm that the 2022-23 season will be the first to take place with no accredited currency in the marketplace.

During her comments at NBCU’s developers conference this week, Executive Vice President-Measurement & Impact Kelly Abcarian went a step further, telling the network’s guests that “time is running out.

“In 2024, the currency our industry uses today — the one our industry has used for decades — will completely disappear. Let me repeat that: The currency we use today is going away. No matter what. That means no more year-over-year comparisons — and all the data that feeds your marketing mix models will be gone.”

She went on to make the case that “we will all have to start over, so we are choosing to get started right now.”

Abcarian and her boss, NBCU Chairman of Global Advertising and Partnerships Linda Yaccarino, are particularly outspoken about Nielsen’s deficiencies, and they are both auspiced and polished in their criticism.  As we’ve often noted, Kelly spent 16 years in Nielsen’s employ, often vigorously defending publicly the rollouts and updates she now relentlessly attacks and is funding and empowering competitors to challenge.  Long before she began her impressive sales career. Yaccarino worked briefly as a researcher in the same time sales company I worked at.  I knew even then she knew her stuff and could even then sell better than the account executives we armed with ammunition.  She’s always had these areas report into her and knows the area as well as any senior executive alive.

When these ladies speak, they speak with the same power and conviction as Daeneares Targaryen in Game of Thrones.  And for Nielsen, they represent an informed clientele that, frankly, is fed up with excuses and game playing.  Nielsen is clearly posturing for a larger payout for its current team, and is banking on industry legacy and, to some extent, lethargy to help their cause.  Many other media companies are privately just as frustrated and publicly making hedge bets with the likes of Comscore, VideoAmp, iSpot and others, again as we’ve previously discussed.  NBCU execs took to the stage of Saturday Night Live this week to take it one step further, announcing the “winners” of their initial search for alternative proofs of performance and declaring that iSpot will be offered as “official currency” during this spring’s upfronts.  It has already touted iSpot’s data as justification for more significant results to its Olympic advertisers this winter than Nielsen’s soft numbers otherwise reported.  Other companies use Nielsen as a default, but as Abcarian reminded all relevant benchmarks become moot by 2024 at the latest.  And, frankly, who knows what the media landscape will look like by then?  By the time the Olympics hit Paris, we may be using a yet-to-be invented currency to monetize it.

So Nielsen thinks it’s worth about $6B more than others do.  So they think they can get Nielsen One launched.  So they think they can get the MRC to re-accredit it soon.

Well, since the same committee hasn’t accredited any of its key measurement competitors just yet, the playing field at the moment is relatively level.  So you say you’ve got a chance.  Well, it’s high time you take it, friends.

Now’s your chance to prove yourselves, Nielsen.  Forget me, certainly.  Forget even your clients and even your investors.  Prove it to yourselves.

Because once upfronts come this year, in a year where even more change is expected in streaming content and advertising availabilities, let alone the power and the voices of other clients (the Warner Discovery deal should be completed, and a new research czar at Disney will likely emerge to replace the respected Julie DeTraglia, now of Amazon.).  And when next winter does come, there’s gonna be a lot more bloodshed than Westeros ever saw, at least metaphorically.    It is quite likely the measurement reckoning Abcarian forecast this week will have occurred.  I’m really hoping to be a more active part of it somewhere.  For those that already are, it should be a very intriguing holiday season.

Good luck, warriors.

Until next time….

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