Is CBS Dropping Nielsen?

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By: Brian Gordon, Media Buying Supervisor

CBS is usually making news headlines about leading in ratings and viewership, but their headlines now are about a move that could threaten their ability to even talk about their ratings leadership.  CBS has let their contract with Nielsen expire, which has sent Nielsen into a panic.  The contract expired at the end of the year so now Nielsen is scrambling to further the contract talks and get them to sign a new contract.  If CBS walks, Nielsen fears that it will make other networks play the same card and question their contract with the rating giant.

What’s the reason for CBS letting their contract expire?  Well, the money of course!  CBS wants a more “competitive rate”, AKA they don’t want to pay as much for their ratings data.  Nielsen used to be the only game in town for ratings, and they have rested on those laurels for too long.  Today’s marketplace requires additional ways to measure viewership besides just the outdated unit of how many people watched a show in a given demo and quarter-hour. 

Competitors like Comscore have come into the marketplace to put the pressure on Nielsen. Comscore and Nielsen are both racing to become the first cross-platform measurement provider. Comscore shook up the industry with a platform that indexed ratings with research from other sources, for example, ratings indexed with intentions to buy a new car in the next few months.  A big complaint that many networks and station owners have with Nielsen is that they don’t believe Nielsen accurately measures viewership across multiple viewing platforms. 

But CBS is pioneering this fight because they have their streaming service that is separate from their TV and cable offerings.  So CBS wants to know the ratings for these services in conjunction with their TV offerings.  They want to offer the ability to buy traditional broadcast TV the same way that digital advertising is bought.   They want to offer a viewer who drives a truck and drives 10 miles to work, not just someone in a specific demographic that “fits” a truck buyer.  CBS wants Nielsen to improve their measurement across all their viewing platforms, Traditional TV, OTT offerings, streaming services, mobile platforms.  Everywhere someone watches a show and can be served an ad, they want that viewer to be accurately measured.

This will be an interesting conflict to watch.  Will Nielsen cave to the pressure and sign a more “competitively priced” deal with CBS, or will CBS walk away and either create their own model or go to another measurement provider like Comscore for their viewership measurement?  Oh yeah, one more consideration, guess who carries the Super Bowl this year, one of the most watched cross-platform shows?  You guessed it, CBS!