Broadcast TV Presidents Want Nielsen to Get Things ‘Right’ and Delay Total Content Ratings Rollout

Company to meet with clients to discuss options

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As Nielsen prepares to meet with media and agency clients Friday to discuss its strategy for releasing its total content ratings (TCR), the broadcast network presidents have added their voices to those in the industry asking the company to modify its rollout plans for the new metric, which is still scheduled for full release on March 1.

Last month, Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships for NBCUniversal, got the ball rolling by writing a letter to Nielsen execs asking them to put the breaks on Nielsen's impending rollout of its total audience measurement platform. Yaccarino said she and her company have "deep concerns" about Nielsen's total content ratings product, which she claimed is "not ready for release" and would do "more harm than good" in its current form. 

At that time, Nielsen reaffirmed its support for TCR and the rollout schedule it finalized in September. But earlier this month, the company announced it was rethinking its strategy at the behest of its TV network clients and had "modified the way in which we will be sharing data during the agency evaluation period which begins in January."

"We will be making certain reports available to agencies based on our clients and where they are in terms of implementation," the company said. "These reports will evolve as more clients come online. This will allow media clients to customize the data they wish to share, whether it be to focus on particular platforms, programs or demographics."

Contrary to some reports, Nielsen has not changed its plans for the March 1 rollout, yet. But it said that during its next senior research council meeting, which will be held on Friday, "we will be discussing with our media and agency clients the best mechanisms to make additional content ratings data available over the course of 2017."

Adweek spoke to the broadcast chiefs from ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW, as well as FX and Freeform, about their thoughts on the rollout and Yaccarino's letter. They echoed a similar theme: While they supported Nielsen's efforts to account for all the platforms that people are using to watch shows, they want the company to make sure the data is "right" before releasing it wide, even if that means missing the March 1 deadline.

Here is what each president had to say about Nielsen's TCR strategy:

ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey: "The most important thing for me is that they're really getting it right. What keeps me up at night is worrying that the total number of viewers who are watching our shows aren't being accurately counted. So I want it to happen, but I want it to happen when it feel like it's right. Because this is one of those things where, if it comes out and it's a disaster, there's no rolling it back."

CBS Entertainment president Glenn Geller: "We want it to be right. They have to get it right, and they have to count every viewer. Once they're able to do that and make sure that it's accurate, we're going to benefit from that. It won't be a surprise that more people watch the hit shows than don't watch the hit shows, and I think you're going to see that we'll get even more viewers once they can accurately count the way viewers are watching our programs on all the different platforms.

The CW president Mark Pedowitz: "I'd like to see them do it right. Everyone's tired of complaining. This should have been done years ago. Just get it right. Don't put something out that's an inferior product. If it's not right and we're all sitting here still complaining, what good was it?"

Fox Television Group co-CEO and co-chairman Dana Walden: "I feel like it is critical that Nielsen get this right. It's critical to our business. All of us in the broadcast business have been dealing over the past five, seven, eight years with measurements that do not accurately reflect the number of people who are watching our shows. And the net effect of that has been deep challenges in monetizing viewers. So, I applaud Nielsen, but I want them to take their time. The next iteration of their technology needs to be accurate. I think they appreciate that, and for the broadcast business more than anyone, we need accuracy, because we are still talking to an enormous number of people, and they need to all be accounted for."

Freeform president Tom Ascheim: "Generally speaking, we support the notion of total content ratings, but there's some kinks still getting worked out."

FX Networks CEO John Landgraf: "I think what Nielsen is trying to do is enormously complicated and technically challenging. What I have been really vocal about is that I don't think it's useful to advertisers, or frankly fair, to have different metrics. I've been very critical of the [digital] views metric because I think it's bogus. … So I'm supportive of Nielsen in that I'd like to see us move towards not only complete measurement across all devices, but a common metric. On the other hand, I don't want them putting out wine before it's time. So I want to support them, but I want to challenge them to get it right."

NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt: "We like the idea in concept, we just think it's too early. They don't have it figured out yet. We're now working with them in a really productive way to get to a place where everybody is going to see the benefit of it. In theory, we are on board. It's just we didn't think it was ready to go. It's too premature."

When asked to respond to the presidents' comments, a Nielsen spokesman gave Adweek the following statement:

"There are no underlying methodological issues with Total Content Ratings (TCR) which is part of Nielsen's Total Audience framework. We take data quality and validation seriously and have conducted extensive evaluation with clients who have implemented measurement. We have built something that has never been done before, is sophisticated, and was built from the ground up with flexibility in mind. Given its newness, we are spending significant time with our clients and in a transparent and ongoing way, explaining our methodology.

"As with any new product, we come out with regular releases that add features and changes based on client feedback and our product roadmap. We have an important upcoming release in February that addresses a handful of specific client asks. We are also excited to have three major digital platforms, which will provide credit back to content owners for their programs, and will begin onboarding over the course of this quarter.

"Unlike TV, digital viewing is spread across a multitude of platforms. Each client measurement environment is unique, and today, clients are at different stages of implementation. Clients have different points of view regarding the amount of coverage required before sharing data broadly to the market.

"With TCR we have created a consistent method and set of metrics to measure cross-platform viewing and our clients continue to be very supportive of what we are doing. TCR enables networks to understand their own audiences with more sophistication than ever before and it gives them, for the first time, a view of other networks' cross-platform audiences."

When Nielsen first unveiled its total audience measurement plans in the fall of 2015, executives had hoped to roll it out in time for last year's upfront presentations, but by March, the company had pushed back its plans.

Under the new timetable, Nielsen made select total content ratings data available to agencies as of Jan. 1. Finally, on March 1, the metrics will be available to all Nielsen clients, including all networks, analysts and press. Until then, clients who receive access to the full data will only be able to use it for "internal" purposes, said Nielsen, as they evaluate the data before the full release in March.

But after Friday's senior research council meeting, it's possible the rollout strategy could be modified yet again.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.