Amazon's Prime Video Thursday Night Football studio team. Amazon’s Prime Video Thursday Night Football studio team.

Last October, Amazon found itself locked in a standoff with audience metrics company Nielsen.

According to Nielsen, long considered the standard-bearer for the precious audience data that helps networks determine how much they can charge for commercials, a Prime Video Thursday Night Football game between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals was watched by 7.8 million people. Amazon, meanwhile, said that 8.9 million people were watching.

In fact, this was just one of many instances where the streaming service balked at the audience numbers that Neilsen announced, claiming that the audience was actually bigger than what they had reported. While Nielsen said at the time that their data was correct, they’ve since come around.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint, Neilsen said last week that they would begin incorporating viewing data from streaming services for live programming.

“We are making modifications for live streaming measurement to more accurately reflect the growing impact of streaming and first-party data,” Nielsen said in a written statement.

Per Flint, this is the first time Nielsen has agreed to include a company’s data along with its independent research. While the decision impacts more companies than just Amazon, the decision almost certainly means that Prime Video’s TNF package will have higher audience numbers and will be able to up their rates for commercials.

While the NFL is undoubtedly thrilled by a decision that will make their seemingly smaller audience numbers look bigger, the decision is not sitting well with TV network executives who have long had to contend with Nielsen.

“TV network executives and their trade group the Video Advertising Bureau are alleging bias from two referees in the industry—Nielsen and the Media Rating Council—which audit the accuracy of media measures,” wrote AdAge’s Jack Neff. “They’re questioning the unusual speed of the audit, which is set to be considered by the MRC in an Aug. 30 meeting.”

Per Neff, network executives see the decision as Nielsen giving “Amazon’s first-party data a third-party stamp of approval,” something that has never been offered to them.

Per George Ivie, CEO of the MRC, Amazon servers are not being integrated with Nielsen’s systems, but instead, the tech giant is providing summaries of its data to Nielsen, which then has to evaluate to accuracy of those summaries.

According to a copy of a report that AdAge obtained, Nielsen’s new methodology would produce numbers very much in line with what Amazon said during last season’s Thursday Night Football games when their internal numbers were around 18% higher than what Nielsen would report.

Notably, high-level data and research people with both ESPN and Fox have publically spoken out about the decision, driving home just how much the traditional networks hate this move.

“Nielsen is about to sacrifice its most valuable attribute – impartiality – to benefit one client, one program, and one content supplier, said Mike Mulvihill, Fox’s president, insights and analytics. “Reckless, wrongheaded, and a slap in the face to the largest Nielsen clients and NFL partners.”

“This Amazon-only Nielsen adjustment creates an apples-to-oranges comparison between them and other NFL media rights partners for this season,” wrote Flora Kelly, vice president of ESPN research. “This is very important context for everyone to remember as we head into the NFL season.”

The underlying question is, of course, if Amazon and its ilk are allowed to self-report numbers to Neilsen, why can’t ESPN, Fox, and the like? Otherwise, can everyone just start claiming their internal numbers are correct, completely undercutting Nielsen’s entire purpose?

It’s pretty clear heading into that August 30 meeting that the decision will be met with plenty of opposition. If it isn’t approved by the MRC members, it’ll be pretty fascinating to see if a company that doesn’t get told “no” very often pivots or just pouts a whole lot louder. Considering they’re paying around $1.2 billion annually for the TNF package, they’ve got plenty of reasons to make noise.

[AdAge, Wall Street Journal]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to