Nielsen's troubles mount as NBCU takes shot at its new measurement product

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Total Content Ratings is intended to include multiscreen viewing in addition to linear.

Nielsen has seen its fair share of dustups with broadcasters and programmers lately, and now NBCUniversal is jumping in with issues concerning Nielsen’s upcoming Total Content Ratings.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sale at NBCUniversal, sent a letter to the ratings agency expressing “deep concerns” over what she called an “incomplete and inconsistent” Total Content Ratings product. Specifically, she called out the product’s limited involvement from pay-TV operators and incomplete OTT measurement that currently omits Hulu, which is part owned by NBC.

The report said that Viacom is also concerned about the product.

Nielsen defended the work it’s done so far on the product and promised to continue improving it.

“Since January 2016, Nielsen has been working with publishers through various implementations of the components of Total Content Ratings and Digital Content Ratings. Currently, dozens of TV and digital media brands are enabled for TV, VOD or digital measurement inside of Nielsen’s Total Audience measurement framework,” said Nielsen in a statement provided to the Journal. “We continue to enhance and refine our product with ongoing updates as we work with clients during this period of evaluation.”

Nielsen’s Total Content Ratings, which will compile viewership numbers across linear TV, DVR, VOD, connected TV devices, mobile, PC and tablets, is set to become available in March 2017.

RELATED: Nielsen stands by report, says ESPN lost 621K subs in October

Now though, the firm is in the position of defending itself and its measurement methodologies once again after last month it faced a backlash from ESPN over subscriber number research.

Nielsen initially pulled back a report stating that ESPN had lost 621,000 subscribers in October, but eventually reaffirmed the numbers.

“Nielsen has now completed an extensive review and has verified that November estimates were accurate as originally released and that all the processes that go into the creation of these estimates were done correctly. Accordingly, they will be re-released today to our clients and put into our production systems on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016,” the company said.

ESPN reiterated its concerns with the data put forth by Nielsen, claiming it didn’t do enough to measure new forms of TV viewership outside of traditional linear.

“This most recent snapshot from Nielsen is a historic anomaly for the industry and inconsistent with much more moderated trends observed by other respected third party analysts,” ESPN said in a statement. “It also does not measure DMVPDs and other new distributors and we hope to work with Nielsen to capture this growing market in future reports.”

RELATED: Sinclair VP: ATSC 3.0 will allow us to ditch Nielsen, save millions

Meanwhile, Nielsen is taking heat from broadcasting groups like Sinclair that are growing weary of third-party audience measurement. Sinclair in particular is pushing the ATSC 3.0 set of digital TV standards and along with it a new means for capturing audience data.

“If we weren’t stuck with Nielsen and their reading of the tea leaves, we’d have tens of millions of extra dollars in our pocket,” Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group, told FierceBroadcasting, adding that the situation between broadcasters and Nielsen has been lopsided for a long time.

"This is about knowing the truth regarding who is watching, what they're watching and when they're watching," said David Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair, in a statement. "Data gathering, measurement and behavior is too important for us not to have a reliable system and there is an immediacy to have this in place to coincide with the rollout of ATSC 3.0. Sinclair and One Media 3.0 intend to build it and make it available to the industry. We are currently working with device manufacturers and will shortly identify a test market in which to conduct live field trials."

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