Paramount, WBD advertising chiefs weigh in on Nielsen’s JIC snub

New York - As network and advertising agency leaders and measurement vendors involved in the OpenAP Joint Industry Committee came together for an Upfront-related event in New York City on Thursday, one audience measurement player was notably absent.

That would be Nielsen, which recently informed the U.S. JIC that it would not participate in the industry initiative. The JIC was created in January with the backing of many major programmers (sans Disney) along with input from buyers and sellers, with a main aim to certify and standardize criteria for cross-measurement audience measurement solutions for multiple new currencies to transact on by the 2024 Upfront.

Nielsen, alongside newer entrants such as Comscore, VideoAmp, iSpot, Samba TV, TVSquared and 605, were all formally asked to respond to a request for information as part of the process for certification by the JIC. As reported by NextTV, in its response letter to OpenAP last week saying it wouldn’t fulfill the RFI, Nielsen’s Karthik Rao, CEO of global audience measurement, said doing so now would “give a false impression that we endorse the JIC’s requirements” which it does not, citing “fundamental legal, operational and scientific issues” that need to be resolved before the legacy measurement company would consider participating.

Some of Nielsen’s issues revolve around the JIC putting more emphasis on big data than panel data (which may be unsurprising given its historical method of panel-based measurement), as well as the initial set of certification criteria not requiring accreditation from the Media Rating Council. MRC is a separate industry organization tasked with accreditation – a status Nielsen itself previously lost and was only recently reinstated for its national TV ratings. In the letter, Nielsen said it remains open to reconsidering its response when certain items are addressed.

‘Weaponizing the MRC’

During the JIC event at One World Observatory in NYC, Paramount Global President of Advertising John Halley and Warner Bros. Discovery Chief U.S. Ad Sales Officer Jon Steinlauf were asked to weigh in on Nielsen’s decision.

Halley believes a lot of the issue surrounding Nielsen’s decision not to participate is based on the vendor conflating the JIC’s aims with that of the MRC.

“The JIC is trying to do something totally different from what the MRC does,” Halley said. The JIC, he explained, is essentially trying to guide product roadmaps to result in products that work and can take advantage of big data sets. The MRC, meanwhile, is tasked with auditing those services and confirming that they work as stated.

“Saying that JIC certification should require MRC accreditation is just kind of logically flawed, it doesn’t really make sense,” Halley continued.

He went on to underscore the point that Nielsen itself has put out multiple products in the market that aren’t accredited by the MRC – following nearly two years of its panel not being accredited, as well as a panel plus big data product. That said he pointed out that Nielsen announced companies can still transact on it and acknowledged that “many agencies and publishers will trade on it.”

“To say that they want JIC certification to require MRC certification in my mind is sort of weaponizing the MRC,” he continued. “I think that there’s no other way to look at it.”

Halley pointed to the JIC’s process, noting it’s one of evaluation, discovery and gathering technical requirements and suggested that it would be difficult to go with a vendor that hasn’t undergone evaluation.

“I don’t know how we at Paramount are expected to enter into a commercial license with a product that has not gone through technical scrutiny. And that’s what this [JIC] is set up to do.”

That said Halley does want Nielsen to be involved, adding that while he doesn’t know exactly where the vendor is coming from “I urge them to join in. It’s very, very important” and the JIC wants as many measurement companies involved as possible.

“They [Nielsen] do have a great base of product to bring into it, but you know, it’s got to be evaluated…everyone’s got to be evaluated on the same basis,” Halley said.

Nielsen has been the historical incumbent for audience measurement and when WBD’s Steinlauf was asked to what degree should one company determine what constitutes a currency for the market, he suggested it’s about a multitude of players.  

“At WBD we believe in optionality, competition, innovation, collaboration, and we don’t think there’s only one game in town,” Steinlauf said. He noted the company already tapped VideoAmp and Comscore to use during this season’s Upfront, and while isn’t ruling out Nielsen, pointed to shortfalls on big data that buyers are asking for.

“Not to say we’re not open for business on Nielsen, but we have agencies that are asking to negotiate this Upfront on big data,” he continued. “So we would like to take them up on it, whether it’s Nielsen, VideoAmp, Comscore.”

Still, he believes there’s a need for more innovation, better measurement and a stable sample base, citing concerns over panel sizes.

“I feel, for 20 television networks under my watch, I worry about the size of the panel and I worry about the stability of panel and I worry about the median age,” the ad chief said. “I think what’s wrong right now, is we’re trading $60 billion dollars a year – but I’m not sure if we have a big enough sample.”