Nielsen Backtracks On Including Amazon Data To Thursday Night Football

By Dev September 11, 2023

Nielsen Backtracks On Including Amazon Data To Thursday Night Football

The contentious relationship between Nielsen and television network clients has heated up again. Last month, Nielsen announced for the upcoming NFL season, they would include Amazon’s first-party audience data for Thursday Night Football. It marked the first time Nielsen planned to include audience data from one of their clients. While Nielsen said the policy change includes all companies that stream live programming, Amazon
would have been the first company to benefit from the change. At the time, Nielsen said the move was to “more accurately reflect the growing impact of streaming and first party data”. It was reported the NFL was supportive of the decision, citing Nielsen’s people meter methodology as outdated.

Amazon would stand to benefit from this change. In its first season of streaming NFL games, Nielsen using third-party sources, comparable to what television networks use, said TNF averaged 9.6 million viewers. Conversely, Amazon using their internal data said, TNF averaged 11.3 million viewers. Amazon, which signed a three-year audience agreement with Nielsen in August 2022, has reportedly been in discussions with Nielsen about improving the differences in the TNF audience. Amazon’s first regular season TNF game this season is on September 14. Nielsen said the planned changeover would require the approval of the independent Media Rating Council, which sets the industry standards for audience measurement.

In the aftermath of the announcement, broadcast networks vehemently denounced Nielsen’s decision and demanded Nielsen to stop the initiative. Sean Cunningham, president and CEO of the Video Advertising Bureau, a trade group representing television networks, said Nielsen’s use of Amazon data was setting a “dangerous precedent” and was putting the “thumb on the scale” in favor of TNF, more than the other networks (CBS, Fox, NBC and ABC/ESPN) that carry NFL games.

Nielsen CEO of audience measurement, Karthik Rao, in a letter to the VAB wrote, “However, the search for perfection risks further delaying the measurement innovations that will ultimately help drive the industry into the future. We believe that our principled, transparent and open approach to integrating first-party data requires all publishers to play by the same rules and will accelerate the industry’s move toward a streaming-first world.”

Sean McManus, CBS Sports chairman, criticized Nielsen’s decision. “A fair and accurate audience measurement across all platforms is absolutely vital to our industry. Anything that is not impartial and unbiased is unacceptable to us. I must say that we think it’s extremely odd and unfortunate that different rules are suddenly applying to one platform, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports president of insights and analytics said, “Nielsen is about to sacrifice its most valuable attribute — impartiality — to benefit one client, one program, and one content supplier.” Mulvihill added Nielsen’s decision was, “reckless, wrongheaded, and a slap in the face” to its clients and NFL partners.

Flora Kelly, Vice President of Research, ESPN said to Sports Business Journal, “Incorporating Amazon’s first party data would make it difficult to distinguish between actual viewer behavior and changes in methodology, resulting in ‘questionable’ comparisons.”

With the continued pushback from television networks (and some advertisers), on September 7, Nielsen announced they would not incorporate Amazon’s first-party data into TNF ratings. In a statement, Nielsen said, “Our aim is to ensure the process with which we introduce new ways of measuring audiences is inclusive of client feedback and held to the highest standards. For now, Nielsen’s panel-only National TV service consisting (of about 42,000 households nationwide), will remain the currency of record. First-party data will be included in big data in national measurement figures, which are available to all customers separately.”

The MRC, which had met with Nielsen on August 30 said, “Our work with Nielsen on the integration of first party data sources into its national measurements is ongoing. MRC has not accredited these, and the official status remains in process“. The VAB’s Cunningham concluded, “I think everybody wins.”

This has been the latest point of contention with Nielsen and the VAB members that began during the pandemic. At that time Nielsen had undercounted viewing during mandated lockdowns, defying conventional wisdom. After an audit, the MRC, in September 2021, suspended Nielsen’s accreditation. The suspension was eventually lifted in April 2023. During that time Nielsen was also developing their own cross-platform measurement initiative, Nielsen One, using licensed large data sets such as cable/satellite set top boxes and “smart” TV’s.

In the mean-time, several large media companies have been working with rivals of Nielsen, most notably, Comscore
, iSpotTV and VideoAmp to develop a more accurate audience measurement system. As of now, none of these companies have been accredited by the MRC. After the MRC reinstatement, Nielsen surprisingly announced for the 2023-24 upfront negotiations, their traditional national people meter would be used instead of the Nielsen One.

The broadcast networks continue to be vocally critical of Nielsen’s inability to measure cross-platform audiences. They have complained Nielsen has been slow to develop an acceptable measurement system reflecting how viewers now watch video content. Earlier this year, a group of rival network owners with the VAB along with major ad agencies collaborated in a Joint Industry Committee (it’s actually a Media Owner Committee), to address how to improve audience measurement, including the use of first-party data. The committee invited seven audience measurement companies to participate in their certification process, but Nielsen declined.

Chris Kelly, CEO of Upwave, which is a brand marketing measurement company says the audience measurement controversies is missing the point,. In a email Kelly notes, “Knowing how many people saw an ad is of course critical, and we should solve for this need. And I understand the frustration of media companies who think their inventory has been miscounted for years, costing them billions. But think of what we’re focused on – we’re not talking about if the ads worked; rather, we’re talking about how much to charge the buyer. Which of these do you think CMOs care more about when they’re doing their five-year planning?”

Streaming live sports is growing. Apple
TV has been exclusively streaming MLS games. Apple TV and Peacock have been exclusively streaming MLB games on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, respectively. Virtually every major live sporting event on linear television is also simulstreamed. Also, on Saturday, January 13, 2024, Peacock, in a first, will exclusively stream an NFL Wild Card Playoff game.

While Nielsen will continue to rely on their panel-only for national audience measurement, they are still planning to include first-party data in their ratings service that will meet MRC standards. At this time, there is no scheduled date for their “evolving” initiative to be completed.

Source: here