Nielsen Shares With MRC Confirmed Audience Estimate ‘Understatement’


Updaed at 11:10am ET, May 11

Nielsen has responded to the Media Rating Council (MRC)’s Monday news release regarding a confirmed understatement by as much as 6% of the Total Usage of Television (TUT) by Persons 18-49 during the ratings measurement company’s February 2021 measurement period.

In short, Nielsen says that pandemic measures led to “some understatement of audience estimates” — information that was shared with the MRC.

As first reported May 11 by RBR+TVBR, the Media Rating Council (MRC) confirmed that it met with Nielsen representatives to discuss industry concerns that there was an undercount.

In its statement, the MRC revealed that the Total Usage of Television (TUT) by Persons 18-49 was understated by approximately 2 to 6 percent for the February 2021 measurement period by Nielsen. The finding, MRC says, is based on Nielsen’s analyses of the potential impacts of the changes to its panel procedures.

In addition, MRC believes that Persons Using Television (PUT) estimates among the Persons 18-49 group was understated by a range of 1 to 5 percent in February 2021.

On Tuesday, a Nielsen spokesperson noted that, “as requested by the MRC, Nielsen has implemented a thorough analysis of the estimated impact of changes in consumer viewing behaviors and its panel maintenance protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will continue to work with the MRC on other analyses in the future.”

Importantly, the company spokesperson said that throughout the pandemic, “Nielsen has been fully transparent in collaborating with the MRC and focused on procedural changes to support its panelists, people, and the integrity of currency metrics used by the industry.”

And, the Nielsen spokesperson pegged the PUT estimate for P18-49 as understated by between 1 and 4 percent in February.

MRC explained that the analyses were designed to determine the impact (if any) to national television viewing estimates that may have resulted from certain changes made to Nielsen panel-related procedures because of COVID-related matters. These changes included adjustments to Nielsen’s standard meter maintenance procedures, a curtailment of the recruitment of new panel homes, and extending the time limits at which panelists are forced to turnover from participation in the panels.

Nielsen’s analyses also indicated that 93% of simulated Persons 18-49 C3 program ratings estimates for February were within +/- .02 points of the estimates originally reported. This was confirmed by the Nielsen spokesperson.

While certain programs showed no change in their rating, and some even had lower ratings in the simulated results, MRC believes these may have been partly a function of the analytical approach used, where homes were removed for the purpose of the simulation, resulting in greater variability, as well as the fact that the analyses were conducted prior to the completion of maintenance procedures for all suspect panel homes.

In short, MRC believes changes to program estimates are “largely one-directional,” and that there was some degree of understatement overall in the C3 Persons 18-49 estimates that were originally reported by Nielsen in the February 2021 period.

While the MRC MRC also notes, “and users of the data should keep in mind,” that this range of impact, as well as the originally reported ratings themselves, are estimates with standard errors associated with them, “we believe the directional impact noted above is appropriate to consider in assessing the estimates originally reported by Nielsen.”

It is difficult to estimate the impact, if any, to reported estimates that may have been attributable to the changes in panel recruitment and turnover processes, the MRC says.

What are some of the next steps?

The MRC plans to continue to work with Nielsen and its members to further analyze the impact that panel disruptions may have had on the viewing estimates Nielsen reported over the affected period. These efforts will include investigating any impacts to Nielsen’s reporting in local markets, as well as further exploration of the role that certain zero-tuning households may have played in reported viewing estimates. Beyond the general numerical ranges that are noted in this statement, customers are encouraged to seek further detailed information on possible impacts from Nielsen, and how these may relate to their specific audiences.

The MRC also plans to continue to work with Nielsen in its ongoing audit and accreditation process for the National Television service as Nielsen more fully returns to a pre-COVID, business-as- usual state in regard to its field visitation practices and the systems it uses to detect potential metering and other issues that could negatively affect its ability to collect full and accurate viewing data from its panel homes.

“Since early March 2021, Nielsen has aggressively returned to pre-COVID maintenance procedures and will continue to rigorously work with the MRC and its clients to understand the impacts of both the pandemic and changing consumer viewing behaviors on data and analysis,” the Nielsen spokesperson said.

This story was originally distributed May 10, 2021 and was updated to include statements from Nielsen. 

To view the MRC’s entire statement in full, please click here:

051021 MRC Industry Communication on Nielsen Natl_Final