Damned if you do

nielsenIn the world of local television, Nielsen sits at the crossroads of profit and loss. I’ve even heard smart TV people say that if it doesn’t involve Nielsen, it doesn’t really matter to me. Ratings are everything, and while people are watching more television these days, the ratings for individual programs have been going down. I doubt this is news to anyone.

What is news is how Nielsen is trying to “adjust” to aid local broadcasters in this scenario, announcing recently that, beginning January 1st, they will no longer provide “live only” ratings for TV viewing. “Live” is being replaced with “live plus same day,” to accommodate for the use of DVRs. This has made the TV people very happy, but the advertisers, not so much.

GroupM, which controls a great deal of TV advertising, has sent a harshly worded letter to Nielsen.

“Your total disregard for the expressed concerns of local broadcast media buyers, coupled with your adamant refusal to recognize our point of view is totally unacceptable,” writes Goldstein ( Marc Goldstein — president and CEO of GroupM North America and Chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ media policy committee) in a letter sent on Wednesday to Susan Whiting, vice chair of The Nielsen Company.

“Rather than maintain Nielsen’s traditional role as an “honest broker” of data and information, you have instead chosen to insert yourselves in the buy/sell process and in so doing, you have sacrificed your credibility.”

Media buyers are upset, because the move will boost ratings by as much as 13%, and that will cost advertisers more money for what they view as bogus numbers.

This is a pretty big deal for broadcasters, who’ve seen revenues slide recently as much as 30–40%. It’s going to get ugly, however, because there’s ample evidence that the people who delay watching live TV skip the ads when playing shows back on their DVRs. Advertisers won’t want to pay for that, and Nielsen has a real conundrum on its hands.