NBCU Exec Calls for Industry to 'Declare Measurement Independence' From Nielsen

Kelly Abcarian stated her case while touting success of NBC’s Tokyo Olympics

Photo by: Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock

Kelly Abcarian, a top-ranking NBCUniversal data executive on the advertising and sales side, has had it up to here with Nielsen. She joined the club Monday with a blog post calling for the industry to “declare measurement independence.”

“Here’s something we all know: advertising measurement is outdated,” her essay started.

The blog post’s mission statement, as emphasized by Abcarian’s mostly bolded text, reads: “It’s time for us to declare measurement independence, and build solutions that will serve all consumers, advertisers, publishers, and platforms for the next century.

In a way, networks already have. Or at least they’ve taken some pretty serious steps to light a fire under Nielsen, the ratings currency company that has basically monopolized the TV-viewership measurement business for decades.

Last month, the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) — the industry group representing virtually all of the major TV networks — asked the Media Ratings Council (MRC) to suspend the TV ratings company’s accreditation. Nielsen beat them to the punch, sort of, by initiating its own suspension.

Nielsen came under fire recently after it was found to have undercounted viewers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nielsen’s total usage of television by adults 18-49 — the demographic a majority of ad prices are based on — was understated by 2% to 6% during February, according to a Media Ratings Council audit. Additionally, the MRC believes that “persons using television” among that same age group was understated by 1% to 5%.

Abcarian’s not waiting on the MRC’s current investigation — but NBCU is not dumping Nielsen outright. Instead, Abcarian believes the TV landscape needs “multiple yardsticks” to measure the various ways content is now consumed. In that spirit, NBCUniversal sent an RFP (request for proposal) to more than 50 potential measurement partners, including ComScore, Nielsen, DataPlusMath, Conviva, Truthset, VideoAmp, iSpot, and yes, Nielsen.

“Interoperability, in a consumer safe and privacy compliant way, is the future of our industry,” she wrote.

“We just need to embrace new sources of identity signals and make data more accessible and actionable, because that unified picture will give us the ability to follow the consumer’s lead,” Abcarian said, adding: “Fortunately, there’s a growing list of measurement and data partners who are ready to support the next generation of innovationsfrom content and commerce, to cross-platform and publisher collaborations, and more.”

OK, so that’s not exactly good news for Nielsen.

One now-defunct competitor, Symphony Advanced Media (Symphony AM), attempted to use a cell-phone microphone to identify audio signals. That seemed promising at the time.

“For our part, NBCUniversal is bringing together a broad network of trusted partners to help modernize the industry’s approach,” Abcarian wrote. “We’re in the process of assembling a full suite of interoperable measurement solutions that are as advanced, diverse, easy-to-use, and multi-platform as the ways people watch content. And we’ll share more updates on the steps we’re taking in the next few weeks.”

Read Abcarian’s full blog post below.

It’s Time For Our Industry To Declare #MeasurementIndependence
By Kelly Abcarian, EVP, Measurement & Impact, NBCUniversal, Advertising and Partnerships
Here’s something we all know: advertising measurement is outdated. Just scroll through the media headlines and it’s impossible to avoid. An Olympics that saw both record consumer engagement and ratings declines. A high-profile dispute over box office numbers and streaming audiences. Or as the Media Rating Council’s Board considers Nielsen’s accreditation fate.

This problem is hardly new. The media and technology landscape has completely transformed over the last few yearsyet measurement remains outdated. Why? Because the advertising industry has not adapted and it’s holding us back. 

But that’s not our fate. We can construct a better, more transparent future. And we need all our industry’s builders–including Nielsen–to architect an entirely new blueprint. It’s time for us to declare measurement independence, and build solutions that will serve all consumers, advertisers, publishers, and platforms for the next century.

#MeasurementIndependence Puts the Consumer First
Putting the consumer first” is too important to become a hollow phrase. When companies depend on outdated advertising measurement, diverse and dynamic consumer behaviors get ignored. Meanwhile, consumer experience suffers with things like cluttered ad spaces. We should put people over ratings.

If consumers can embrace layers of complexity, then our industry should too. If there are multiple viewing experience, then we need multiple yardsticks. For example, we can work towards a universal identity to raise standards, and give marketers new tools to personalize and optimize their campaigns across platforms and programmers.

Interoperability, in a consumer safe and privacy compliant way, is the future of our industry, and the fastest road to measurement independence and a better consumer experience. In this fragmented landscape, we all understand different pieces of the consumer experience. So, let’s make it whole. We just need to embrace new sources of identity signals and make data more accessible and actionable, because that unified picture will give us the ability to follow the consumer’s lead.

#MeasurementIndependence Will Bust Open the Doors of Media Innovation
Any good marketer follows its consumer in constant pursuit of new innovation. But if we rely on outdated metrics, innovation in media slows down too. Old measurement incentivizes old methodsstifling more modern approaches and creative risk-taking. Just imagine the media innovations or partnerships we’ve scrapped because we didn’t have the  measurement to celebrate its true value.

Without a way to measure an idea’s impact, innovative teams have a choice: stop developing new media experiences, or build new measurement. Social and streaming platforms chose independence over a single metric because it enabled them to pursue consumer-led innovation. Now the entire media industry can do the same. 

Measurement independence frees up innovation. It will require collaboration with measurement and data partners who can measure success outside the traditional box. Fortunately, there’s a growing list of measurement and data partners who are ready to support the next generation of innovationsfrom content and commerce, to cross-platform and publisher collaborations, and more. 

#MeasurementIndependence Will Redefine Impact for Advertisers and Publishers
Finally, advertisers and publishers are in search of improved measurement solutions. Because when they meet at the negotiating table, they depend on third-party measurement to help define value and impact. The reasons are clear: Marketers want their impact in today’s terms. Meanwhile, for publishers, the gaps in measurement are gaps in what can be monetized. 

Measurement independence will create more modern, transparent, and reliable measurement standards. Interoperable data sets will produce better inputs, more ways to de-duplicate data and new methods to measure any KPI. With more comprehensive and trustworthy standards, advertisers can confidently shift from ratings to results, and move closer to measuring what matters — impact. 

Declaring #MeasurementIndependence and Taking Action
By declaring measurement independence we can build a new, global currency that reflects consumer behavior accurately and values content fairly. We can level up the playing field with more datasets and multiple yardsticks for multiple kinds of impact. 

For our part, NBCUniversal is bringing together a broad network of trusted partners to help modernize the industry’s approach. We’re in the process of assembling a full suite of interoperable measurement solutions that are as advanced, diverse, easy-to-use, and multi-platform as the ways people watch content. And we’ll share more updates on the steps we’re taking in the next few weeks.

In this new era, more measurement options and collaboration will drive the future of content and advertising forward.

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