Can comScore Knock Nielsen off Its Perch? - Steve Yanovsky

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Cover image for  article: Can comScore Knock Nielsen off Its Perch? - Steve Yanovsky

For decades Nielsen has been the only rating service for the television industry, warts and all. It is about time that somebody challenged Nielsen in the rating business. Those of us who grew up in television, and were forced to use Nielsen as the only metric, were frustrated by their "idiosyncrasies" and lack of performance. Several attempts were made to develop an alternate measurement system, but none stuck.

Now, there is a high stakes tug of war between Nielsen and comScore for control of the online space. Nielsen received Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation for its Online Campaign Ratings (OCR) system. This tool uses Facebook data to deliver age and gender demo's as well as GRP's. But, many advertisers and networks, find fault with Nielsen's core business, and are not happy with them owning the online business too. Radical shifts in ratings data has occurred unexpectedly in the past. Take a look at what Nickelodeon was dealing with recently.

comScore thinks that they have the answer to Nielsen's approach and present themselves as the anti-Nielsen solution. They are working diligently to get MRC accreditation for Validated Campaign Essentials (VCE) with data coming from their online audience panel of 2 million people globally. Their product includes a measure to ensure that people see at least 50% of the video's pixels for at least one second, according to a description published recently in Ad Age.

Major advertisers are beginning to align themselves with these two competing systems. P&G, the "800 gorilla", and constant learner in the online space, is trying both. Nielsen also has Unilever in their camp. Allstate, Chrysler, General Mills, Ford, Kraft, and many others have all tried VCE.

At present, the two competitors are following the example of today's political campaigns. That is, they are taking public pot shots at each other. Nielsen has rejected the "panel only" approach being employed by comScore. As mentioned, Nielsen has formed a strategic alliance with Facebook to gather its data. But, comScore's own research shows that in many cases where its panelists are using home computers, they are logged into the Facebook accounts of other members of the household. So, can you believe the data collected? Also, Nielsen is using Facebook to gather data on its own competitors. How comfortable would you be if CNN gathered ratings data on all the other cable networks?

In a recent article in Digiday. Alex Blum of KIT Digital referred to Nielsen as "built on a jury-rigged measurement system that's a bit of joke and needs to be replaced for the potential of the modern media world to be fully realized….Make no mistake: Inertia is what has prolonged Nielsen's rule."

Doesn't the viewer's move away from broadcast/cable television to a world of three screen video consumption over the past decade lead us in the direction of finding a new resource which is more digital in its orientation? Can Nielsen really be all things to all people?

Steve Yanovsky is a partner at Customer Focused Solutions, a marketing and marcom consulting firm, and can be reached at

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