Nielsen Tells TV Networks It Undercounted Out-of-Home Audiences for Months

Nielsen is in the midst of a battle to count TV audiences of the future, but the company just disclosed it’s still having problems counting them in the present.

The media-measurement giant informed TV networks and other clients Wednesday that it has, since September of 2020, undercounted so-called “out of home” audiences — the people watching programs in offices, bars, hotels and other places — for national TV programming. Nielsen cited a “software issue” for the problem, and vowed to release corrected estimates starting in mid-January of next year. But the process, Nielsen said, is likely to take longer to remedy. Audience data for some of the months won’t be available until February, and release of information about out of home viewership between September and December of last year is still “TBD,” Nielsen said in its memo.

“As part of routine testing and quality controls, we recently identified an error that caused an understatement of reported out-of-home audiences for our National TV service. While there is no impact to most telecasts, and no impact to local television, we did find some variances for events that tend to yield larger out-of-home audiences, such as live sporting events,” Nielsen said in a statement. “The error has been corrected and Nielsen will be reissuing data from January 2021 to present in order to provide the industry with the most complete data.”

The gaffe comes after Nielsen has been under intense scrutiny for months. The Media Rating Council, an industry body that verifies audience measurement processes, removed its accreditation of Nielsen’s national and local ratings services in September after determining the company underestimated traditional TV audiences during the pandemic. Since that time, a number of big media companies, including NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS and Univision, have unveiled new efforts to build audience-measurement alternatives. ViacomCBS has started working with the large media-buying agencies owned by Dentsu, and expects to start testing transactions using other services early next year.

More to come…


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