Nielsen Prepares to Go Private, Responds to FCC Critique

It’s a new era in Nielsen’s history. Shareholders have approved an acquisition of the TV measurement company by a private equity consortium made up of Evergreen Coast Capital Corp., an affiliate of Elliott Investment Management L.P., and Brookfield Business Partners L.P. The all-cash deal was valued at approximately $16 billion, including the assumption of debt. It’s expected to close in October, at which time Nielsen will become a private company and will no longer trade shares on the NYSE.

But before Nielsen can focus on the future, it still has a lot of work to do to repair the damage its reputation suffered during the pandemic. It’s been under fire for more than a year after an audit from the Media Rating Council revealed it undercounted viewership numbers during the pandemic. Programming executives began to focus on collecting and owning their own data as well as test partnerships with other measurement firms. Some regulators have also become curious about what else is out there.

FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington asked the agency in July to open a Notice of Inquiry tied to Nielsen’s inclusion in various FCC rules, encouraging his fellow commissioners to investigate opportunities to identify or generate new sources of broadcast data. He also argued that if the Commission’s ties to Nielsen are no longer serving it, it should break them. At that time, the Commission had approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking tied to FCC rules requiring local TV stations looking for carriage on a pay TV system to determine their local market using two Nielsen publications: the Station Index United States Television Household Estimates and the annual Station Index Directory. The Commission has been gathering comments on a proposal to replace both of them with Nielsen’s monthly Local TV Station Information Report, and NAB is in firm support of the FCC considering alternatives for any of its rules or required showings by broadcast stations.

“For purposes of TV station DMA assignments, stations and multichannel video programming distributors need to be working from a single ‘playbook,’ so only one data source can be relied on in this context,” NAB said in comments submitted this week. “However, for matters that do not require reliance on a single data source, the Commission should give fair and nondiscriminatory reconsideration to other sources of data.”

Nielsen acknowledged in its own comments that competition in the TV measurement space is increasing every day, but it claims its advantage over firms like Comscore remains in its investment in panel measurement and sampling. Much of the industry uses return-path data for audience measurement, which can tell you which devices are on and to what programs they’re tuned into. Nielsen claims only panel measurement can determine if someone is actually watching and who that person is, and it takes a mix of both techniques to extract accurate information on certain demographics.

“Our competitors, for whatever reason, have chosen not to make the investments necessary to provide this kind of information. This, we believe, is at least in part why the Commission has chosen to rely on Nielsen’s services over the years, and why the Commission can confidently continue to do so,” Nielsen said.

It also took a moment to respond to Simington’s critiques, acknowledging that it did lose its accreditation from the Media Rating Council last year. But Nielsen claimed many, if not all, of the issues cited by the Council can be directly attributed to challenges it ran into during the pandemic. It was forced to cancel in-home visits and couldn’t rely on panels to the same extent, and that created major challenges with its data and ratings processes.

“Nielsen has been working hard with the Council to address its concerns and hopes to have its accreditation restored in the near future,” it said. “And, of course, no other measurement company has received accreditation for local or national television audience measurement.”

News Source: Cablefax

Nicky Scanlon

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