On Thursday, news broke that Nielsen was planning on delaying the rollout of their new out-of-home measurements, originally planned for this fall. That came as a surprise to television networks, who had been selling ads based on the projected audience bump for out-of-home viewing, which was expected to be most beneficial for sports broadcasts.
Now, after a day or so of backlash, Nielsen will be continuing with the model as originally planned, even if a surge in the pandemic forces bars and other viewing options to close this fall. The news was first reported by Variety’s Brian Steinberg:
Nielsen held conversations Friday with several senior ad-sales executives at top TV outlets, according to six people familiar with the matter. The media-measurement giant has informed those networks and others it now intends to count out-of-home viewers during the fall season as it had originally planned, these people said. An apology from Nielsen to its clients is expected as part of the discussions, according to three of these people. The measurement firm unveiled its decision earlier this week without informing the networks in advance, these people said.
That apology did indeed arrive, in the form of a letter from Nielsen CEO David Kenny to clients that was sent on Friday. Here’s that letter in full (emphasis added):
At Nielsen, we take pride in providing the market with transparent metrics that our clients can use to transact with confidence.
Earlier this week we communicated a delay to our plans to integrate out-of-home audiences into the National TV currency this fall. Our concern was about consumer behavior, and not the Nielsen methodology. While out-of-home audiences have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, our methodology is strong and the data is reflective of consumer behavior.
That said, after speaking with many clients and learning more about your specific agreements for the upcoming season, it became clear that we had misunderstood the extent to which upfront deals have already been agreed to using out-of-home metrics. Given the circumstances, we recognize that a delay would cause greater disruption to the industry than maintaining our original plan. I also believe Nielsen needs to deliver on our promises, so that you can transact with trust and confidence. Therefore, Nielsen will move forward with the integration of out-of-home TV viewing into the National TV currency measurement starting in September 2020, as originally planned. We will also provide additional data on out-of-home behavior to help you interpret behavior shifts during the pandemic.
We regret any disruption we may have caused you, your customers, and the market this week. Going forward, we are committed to ensuring a more complete, inclusive, and transparent process as the currency evolves with changing consumer behavior.
CEO and Chief Diversity Officer
Networks clearly had zero interest in going back to the negotiating table now, as that would mean an immediate downgrade in revenue forecasts. This enables them to, in effect, extend the game; there’s a pretty good chance that the pandemic will mean losses relative to original forecasts, but that’s something that could perhaps be more easily weathered in the fall. And while the out-of-home boost won’t be nearly as big as it would have been in a world where bars everywhere are open and no one was worried about going to them, there will still likely be some positive impact on the numbers.
per a source in some "unofficial" Nielsen out of home viewership accounting, April-May was down 50%+ from January & February OOH viewing but overall OOH lift was still 4%. 4% is much better than nothing!
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) July 10, 2020
Now that the networks got their wish, the rollout will continue in September alongisde the projected start of the NFL season, at which point the data on out-of-home viewing and the overall year-over-year totals will certainly be worth exploring.