Nielsen Puts Its Third-Party National TV Ratings Accreditation on Hiatus

Pause places the measurement service that the industry relies on in limbo

The moves comes weeks after the Video Advertising Bureau demanded that the MRC halt Nielsen's accreditation. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Nielsen, Getty Images

After facing intensifying pressure from the industry to shore up its measurement offerings, Nielsen has taken the unprecedented step of halting third-party accreditation of its own national TV ratings service.

In a statement released Thursday morning, a Nielsen spokesperson said that it would halt the accreditation that the third-party Media Rating Council normally provides as a check on the firm’s own measurement numbers. The decision, the spokesperson said, was “the best course of action” for the measurement firm to take as it looked to update and streamline its national TV product and other measurement products.

The move comes just weeks after the Video Advertising Bureau, an industry trade group that represents most of the major broadcasters, called on the Media Rating Council to strip Nielsen of its accreditation following a months-long fall-out between the two parties about the efficacy of Nielsen’s ratings system. At the time, the MRC confirmed it was “actively pursuing” a review into Nielsen’s measurement methods at the behest of its constituency, but did not provide a timeline for any updates.

“Yesterday, Nielsen proactively initiated the accreditation hiatus process for our National TV ratings service with the Media Rating Council (MRC),” the Nielsen spokesperson said in a statement. “While we remain confident in the integrity of our data and measurement, and fully support the audit process, we believe that moving to a hiatus allows us to concentrate our audit-related efforts on continuing to address panel concerns alongside the transformation of our National TV product and development of Nielsen One.”

The decision throws the national TV panel that marketers and media companies rely on in limbo, as it no longer has the third-party backing from the MRC that lends additional credibility to those figures upon which the industry transacts. It also complicates Nielsen’s own efforts to restore trust with the industry that has been rocked by revelations that the measurement firm under-counted audiences throughout 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic upended traditional in-person panel checks and maintenance.

In a statement, David Gunzerath, svp and associate director of the Media Rating Council, said the council would share more later Thursday about the matter, and confirmed that Nielsen had requested the hiatus.

“We can confirm that we have received an accreditation hiatus request from Nielsen for their National TV service,” Gunzerath said. “We expect to have more to say on this matter later today.”

Sean Cunningham, the president and CEO of the VAB, said the group’s pressure on Nielsen would only intensify in the wake of the decision.

“After months of Nielsen’s very public insistence that there was nothing wrong with their ratings data, but now facing a slam-dunk VAB case for accreditation suspension, Nielsen has essentially announced ‘you can’t fire me, I quit’ just hours before the MRC suspension vote process is activated,” Cunningham said in a statement. “What cannot be evaded or dodged is the level of all-industry intervention coming to Nielsen with a mandate of change-or-die transparency needed for going forward with any real credibility. The VAB will be pursuing the case for radical Nielsen change with more voracity than ever.”

Nielsen did not immediately respond to Adweek’s additional queries.

‘Working diligently’ on panel issues

For the past several months, Nielsen has been on the defensive, looking to shore up industry trust while standing by its measurement figures and methods. The company has previously committed to rectifying the errant panel homes and said earlier this year that it would complete more than 9,000 home visits to complete necessary maintenance; in a statement today, the firm said that it continued to make adjustments and updates to its in-home panel system and operations.

“Since March, we’ve been working diligently to get our panel back up to full strength by increasing panel size, improving demographic representation and addressing panel maintenance,” the Nielsen spokesperson said Thursday. “We’re applying key learnings from the last 18 months and are actively making adjustments to our field operations that will inform our processes as we prepare for possible impact from surging Covid-19 variants, while also diligently ensuring the health and safety of our panel homes and people.”

This story is breaking and will be updated with more information as it becomes available.

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