January 3, 2019

For decades TV stations and networks have complained that ratings services undercount the real number of viewers who are watching.

Until this year, some smaller markets relied on a paper diary system to estimate viewership. Television (and radio) ratings determine how much advertisers pay for airtime, where shows — and careers — live or die.

Nielsen, the dominant TV rating service, started significantly updating how it gathers new estimates, but CBS, among others, are loudly complaining that Nielsen is not doing enough.

Both CBS and Gray Media (which just acquired Raycom Broadcasting,) say Comscore is a viable alternative. Gray says it will be using Comscore at least 80 of its 91 TV markets and CBS says if it cannot come to a deal with Nielsen, it would walk to Comscore, too.

CBS’s battle with Nielsen has been playing out publicly for a few weeks. On Thursday, CBS said, “The entire media industry is aware of the need for complete and accurate measurement across platforms. While Nielsen has made some strides in this area, progress has not been what we and many clients would like, and local TV measurement is particularly challenged. Despite this backdrop, Nielsen continues to use their market power to bundle disparate services and raise prices for services that don’t sufficiently address ongoing changes in the industry.”

The statement continued, “As a result, we are currently at a contractual impasse, although we continue to be open to negotiating a fair deal that makes strategic and financial sense for CBS. If we cannot come to an agreement with Nielsen, we will continue to employ the many viable alternatives available to us, including Comscore.”

Variety quoted Gray’s CEO Bob Smith, “Through our use of Comscore in a number of markets in recent years, we saw first-hand the accuracy and stability of Comscore’s local TV currency. ”

Smith added, “In fact, when polled, our general managers in all 57 legacy Gray markets made clear they preferred Comscore as their trusted currency — so it was an easy decision to shift all these markets to Comscore. We also have been very pleased with the agency reaction to our decision, which confirms the growing industry confidence in Comscore’s measurement methodologies both now and in the future.”

The TV ratings business has become increasingly complex in the last decade as viewers consume TV content on mobile devices, delayed (recorded) playback and through third-party providers. Previous incarnations of ratings counts didn’t include viewers in hotel rooms, bars and university dorm rooms. Nielsen is rolling out new wearable devices to measure media consumption wherever the viewers is.

Nielsen is using “wearable” devices in other parts of the world, including Australia, and plans to expand their use in the United States. this year.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.

More News

Looking back at a horrific week

Coverage of the police response and how politicians have responded, urgent questions about showing images, powerful late-night monologues, and more.

May 27, 2022
Back to News