Audience Insights: TV Measurement Path “Paved With Good Intentions”

10.21.2021 David Gustafson

In what seems like a century ago in advertising years, Shawndra Hill from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School concluded a June 2014 Big Data article on TV audience measurement with these thoughts:

“…the landscape is ripe to develop new methodologies that deal with the complications of data and TV measurement, while offering more efficient targeting options to advertisers. It is a great time to be a (big) data scientist looking for solutions to the TV audience measurement problem.”

With 2022 on the horizon, data and analytics certainly play an increasingly important role in helping advertisers frame up the progressively fragmented video landscape. Industry prognosticator eMarketer, for example, predicts that total spending on addressable, programmatic, and other connected TV (CTV) platforms will more than double by 2025, largely driven by continued advancements in data. Despite that anticipated growth, CTV ad revenues still are projected to be less than 30% of total TV ad spending.

That means traditional, or linear, TV will remain a formidable player ultimately requiring the kind of data-driven measurement “solutions” Hill envisioned back in 2014. A check of recent headlines, though, indicates those advancements have been slower to materialize in the traditional TV space. As industry analyst Brad Adgate noted in a September Forbes article, “virtually every audience guarantee” for this season’s $20 billion network TV upfront was rooted in standard Nielsen ratings currency.

Indeed, even with the well-publicized criticism surrounding the health of its metered panels and the loss of Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation for its National and Local TV measurement services, Nielsen continues to cling to the championship belt in the battle for TV measurement adoption. Comscore, meanwhile, has solidified its position as the top TV measurement challenger – but the company missed an opportunity to strike a potentially staggering blow because, like Nielsen now, its TV services continue to lack MRC accreditation.

As Nielsen now rebrands with a new logo and mission statement and Comscore reengages in MRC accreditation discussions, Cox Media continues to license TV measurement data from both companies, offering advertisers the option to leverage either set of viewership estimates for planning and evaluating Local TV campaigns. For the foreseeable future, the widespread integration of Nielsen and Comscore TV metrics in various planning and scheduling platforms makes access to these data sources an established and necessary part of the existing TV advertising roadmap.

Concurrently, Cox Media remains focused on a future “telly” vision that builds a bridge to converged measurement and the seamless linkage of traditional TV and TV Everywhere audiences in a way that facilitates richer cross-platform campaign insights. In addition to tracking progress on that front from the TV measurement incumbents, Nielsen and Comscore, Cox Media continually reviews developments from other entities exploring this space. This includes but is not limited to work being undertaken by the following groups:

  • COALITION FOR INNOVATIVE MEDIA MEASUREMENT (CIMM) – Founded in 2009 by a consortium of TV programmers, media agencies, and national advertisers, CIMM is now an affiliate of the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) – and its membership has expanded to include MVPDs, industry consultants, and research/technology vendors. The group’s areas of focus include “the opportunities and challenges of using return path data from set-top boxes and smart [TVs] to measure viewing of television.”
  • INTERACTIVE ADVERTISING BUREAU (IAB) – Perhaps best known as a leader in online advertising standards, the IAB Tech Lab also has tremendous influence in digital video measurement – particularly related to advertising within premium TV content delivered via streaming services. This work is critical because “the growing pool of cord-cutters and cord-nevers continues to drive the expansion of connected TV and over-the-top (OTT) video platforms and the evolution of the video advertising world.”
  • MEDIA RATING COUNCIL (MRC) – In addition to its more widely publicized work auditing traditional TV measurement services, the MRC is actively developing measurement standards for OTT and connected TV (CTV). In updated guidelines released in August, the MRC cited the IAB Tech Lab in establishing clearer definitions for those terms. Whereas OTT is the overarching umbrella for streaming delivery of premium TV content, CTV is the specific subset of OTT displayed on TV sets vs. smart phones, PCs, etc.
  • NBCU & VIACOM/CBS – NBCU EVP of measurement Kelly Abcarian – a former senior executive at Nielsen – has admonished industry peers to seek “measurement independence,” according to For its part, NBCU has issued an audience measurement RFP to more than 50 companies. ViacomCBS, meanwhile, announced late last month that it will begin “using an alternative currency from VideoAmp to plan, transact and measure national media campaigns,” according to Broadcasting & Cable.
  • Last but certainly not least, the VAB continues to be an active voice in the press and in industry forums, pushing for improvements from Nielsen and advocating the benefits of advertisers leveraging a more audience-based mindset.

In some ways, the gap between Hill’s 2014 vision and the 2021 realities of Local TV audience measurement points to a previous decade perhaps best summarized by the opening lines of a 1992 Restless Heart hit: “The road [we] have traveled on is paved with good intentions – and littered with broken dreams that never quite came true.” At the same time, though, the potential on the horizon for richer TV data and more robust insights is as high as ever, making the future of Local TV measurement a show worth watching on any screen.

Headshot_David Gustafson
About the Author

David Gustafson

As Cox Media’s Director of Audience Research, David drives positive outcomes for marketers by applying a unique blend of data-informed analysis, industry expertise, and storytelling skills that have earned him a tenured role as the company’s “Professor.” Specializing in audience measurement and market intelligence, David is a member of the Ampersand Cross-MVPD Research Committee, Nielsen Local Policy Guidelines Committee (PGC) and VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, as well as client advisor to Comscore.

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