Nielsen Ratings Woes Cause Client Concern

NEW YORK Nielsen said late Wednesday it expected further delays in its ratings delivery until the end of the week, but that by then, it should be back on its normal schedule and caught up with the ratings backlog.

Some clients described the delays this week as the worst TV ratings delivery snafu they’ve seen in their careers. The problems started over the weekend with what a Nielsen rep described as “an issue with our server,” which prevented the timely delivery of both local and national ratings all weekend and into midweek.

Sources said that the server issue referred to by the rep resulted in a loss of communication with at least some of the homes in both the local and national TV ratings samples, triggering the delays.

In a letter to clients Wednesday, Nielsen evp Mitchell Habib described the problem as “a firmware bug from the server manufacturer that went undetected and caused a data collection stoppage over the weekend. In the course of fixing this issue, we uncovered a second defect on Monday, which resulted in further performance degradation and delays.”
Habib added that the ratings firm “took immediate action to implement software fixes that corrected performance issues. A thorough assessment of the meter collection server infrastructure will be conducted immediately. We made the decision to further delay the release of data after the issues were corrected to allow our Measurement Science team additional time to validate the integrity of the data prior to release.”
While the Nielsen team was “extremely disappointed” that the system problems and delays occurred, Habib stressed that “we want to reiterate our intense commitment to improving the quality of our deliverables to you over the long term. We anticipate being fully back on schedule and caught up on deliverables by the end of the week. We will continue to keep you informed of our progress.”

A Nielsen rep said Monday and Tuesday ratings would “most likely” be delivered Thursday.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said one network research veteran who has been in the business 20 years. “It’s worrisome, because you have to wonder what is really behind it — is it cutbacks or trying to implement too many new initiatives at once?”

Some researchers said top network brass were “pretty steamed,” as one source put it. “We’re paying millions of dollars to Nielsen every year to have these numbers delivered every day. This is not good.”

One client took a forward-looking perspective: “What I’m really curious to know is what steps they will take to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Adweek, Brandweek and Mediaweek are units of the Nielsen Co.