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TV Networks Scramble To Launch Nielsen Rivals In Measurement Mess «


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TV’s most intense drama isn’t showing on any particular network and doesn’t stream on any specific screen. Even so, some of the industry’s most influential executives can’t stop talking about it.

Chances are no one will mention the series at next week’s sundry upfront gatherings, when TV companies will unveil dozens of new programs as part of an effort to win billions of ad dollars, but it is of critical importance to Disney, Comcast, Fox and many of the TV-reliant companies behind the presentations. For weeks, TV executives have been transfixed by seemingly endless episodes in which their own networks, upstart tech companies, Wall Street heavyweights and Madison Avenue stalwarts all try to figure out how to count media audiences in an era when many of them turn to streaming services to watch their favorite series. For decades, the companies have relied on Nielsen to determine how many people watched the Super Bowl or a midnight repeat of “The Golden Girls.” Now, as media habits change, the entire system is likely to be overhauled, and the networks are relying more heavily on Nielsen rivals, trying to gain more control over the process — before someone else does.

Billions of dollars are at stake, and the way the industry ends up solving the issue is likely to affect every advertiser from AT&T to Apple. TV networks want to make sure every viewer is counted so they can charge the highest rates possible. Measurement upstarts and their investors see a chance to generate new money; Nielsen, for example, secured $3.5 billion in revenue last year. And advertisers want to make sure they are spending more efficiently, putting money into media plans that reach people most likely to be interested in what they have to say. “Everyone has lost money,” David Zaslav, the CEO of the newly combined Warner Bros. Discovery, one of the largest TV companies in the sector, told investors last year. “You’re dealing with a very antiquated delivery system.”

Now, everyone is trying to build a new one. The networks have for months been working to loosen their relationship with Nielsen, the de facto arbiter of how many people watch anything on TV. In September, the measurement giant, which acknowledged struggling with its technology during the coronavirus pandemic, lost industry accreditation for its national ratings service. That sent many of the biggest media outlets out to craft new alliances with rivals who want to vie with Nielsen — companies with names like iSpot, VideoAmp, and comScore, all hoping to launch an “alternate currency” to the one Nielsen already provides. “Multi-currency measurement is here,” says Linda Yaccarino, NBCUnviersal’s chair of global advertising and partnerships. “It’s really about the advertisers and the agencies and their state of readiness to transact commercials at scale on those services.”


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