Networks have been unhappy with Nielsen for a while now, including a recent issue involving Nielsen admitting to erroneously underreporting viewership numbers.

Considering the dominant grip Nielsen has had on the ad sales industry for decades, though, most networks continue to be beholden to them, no matter how much they grumble. NBCUniversal, though, is reportedly considering other options, going so far as to plan an upcoming test with an upstart Nielsen competitor during two of the biggest events in television: the Super Bowl and the Olympics.

That’s according to a Los Angeles Times report from Stephen Battaglio:

The company announced today it will use data from iSpot.tv, a Bellevue, Wash.-based company that measures audiences across linear TV and streaming platforms to provide viewing information on the two major events next month. Publicis Media, which owns several major ad-buying companies, has agreed to participate in the test with several of its clients.

NBCUniversal remains a client of Nielsen and will use its ratings as well for the events. But the test with iSpot.tv — which has a multi-year deal to provide its services to NBCU — will be the most high-profile effort to promote a viable competitor to Nielsen, long the dominant provider of data used to determine pricing for the $70 billion in commercial time that advertisers buy annually.

The Times report notes that this is more than just saber-rattling, as NBCU is hoping a successful test leads to switching to iSpot.tv’s data for spring upfront sales. That would certainly mark a major shift, and it’s all tied back to NBC (and presumably other networks) being dissatisfied with how Nielsen calculates non-traditional viewing. Considering that’s a growing portion of viewership, especially in key demographics, and that it’s only going to be more important going forward.

The Super Bowl is going to pull numbers regardless, of course, on traditional and non-traditional platforms. But NBC pays billions for the Olympics, and this move feels very much aimed at finding more favorable tracking data it can present to advertisers.

But NBCU executives have maintained that consumers have been watching more of the events because of the wide array of offerings on its streaming apps. The network is hoping the data from iSpot.tv will help make that case.

That’s not to say NBC is cherry picking here, or creating a false narrative. There are real questions about Nielsen’s efficacy at tracking out-of-home and non-traditional viewers, and considering the money at stake, small percentage points in either direction can have huge ramifications for a network.

NBC choosing two of the biggest events on their calendar for the test run also makes sense; these are the moneymakers, after all. If the iSpot.tv metrics don’t pan out relative to Nielsen by whatever metrics NBCUniversal hopes, then there’s no real point in moving further down that road for lower-traffic programming.

We’ll know if it’s a successful test if NBC does indeed convince advertisers to base buys on it this spring. Until then it’s a bit of a waiting game, but considering how long Nielsen has held a firm grip on this particular area of the industry, even just the potential for a shakeup counts as news.

[Los Angees Times]

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.