Nielsen Strikes a Digital Ratings Deal With CBS to Better Measure Viewership

Competition with comScore already heating up

On the heels of Tuesday's announcement that comScore will acquire rival Rentrak in a stock-for-stock merger so the combined company can take on Nielsen, Nielsen returned fire today with some news of its own.

The embattled company announced a deal with CBS that will bolster its digital audience measurement: Now, when Nielsen calculates CBS's TV ratings, it can include livestream data from the network's All Access subscription video-on-demand service—available in more than 95 local markets. Data from iOS and Android devices, along with desktop and laptop computers, will be factored into the network's C3, C7 and average quarter-hour ratings.

The news was Nielsen's latest volley in Advertising Week's back-and-forth between networks and marketers who have been complaining about their inability to measure and monetize a show's total audience, and the ratings company that keeps promising its total audience measurement is on the way

While the announcement may seem to be much ado about nothing—it only measures viewers who livestream CBS via CBS All Access, and not those who livestream it using their cable provider's app—it represents "the biggest step forward for us" in the company's quest to provide total audience measurement metrics, Nielsen global president Steve Hasker said at an Advertising Week session today. On Monday, Hasker said Nielsen's total audience measurement will debut "by the end of the year."

"Total access enabled all of those digital impressions to be reported in the daily ratings. That, to me, is tangible evidence that we're moving forward and the measurement problem, understood or not, is in the process of being solved," said Hasker.

As for Tuesday's huge comScore-Rentrak announcement, the exec originally said he could not comment but then added, "I would like to think that it is an admission that alone, they couldn't compete effectively. I think the challenge that they now face is that they're going to try to tie together very disparate measurement systems." Just a half hour earlier, Hasker had tangled onstage in a contentious session with Rentrak CEO Bill Livek and comScore CEO Serge Matta, according to the The Wall Street Journal

A contentious space

While Hasker was more composed during the second panel, when he wasn't sitting across from Livek and Matta, he still threw plenty of shade at the two companies, claiming Nielsen's total audience measurement will be superior to whatever they come up with. "We're building a reach metric that everybody can use, that is independent, that is accredited and will feed into as many systems as needed," said Hasker. "The important thing is to have the same system measuring everybody, at least as a starting point." (The inclusion of "independent" was another shot at comScore and Rentrak, as holding company WPP is an investor in both companies.)

The total audience measurement news was welcomed by Hasker's co-panelist David Poltrack, chief research officer of CBS Corp. He said the average brand advertisers on television are reaching just 40 percent of buyers, "an all-time low."

The problem, said Poltrack: "They're not buying premium content anymore; they're buying in bulk. They're no longer buying to maximize reach" because "the wrong metrics" are being used to evaluate media schedules.

"This was the period of the greatest amount of money being wasted in the history of marketing. There is so much money being thrown against the wall for things that have no real potential of working," said Poltrack. "The whole industry is going through experimentation," which hopefully will end whenever those total audience metrics are finally available, either by Nielsen or what its rivals are cooking up.