MRC: Nielsen Understated TV Numbers for February 2021

(Image credit: Nielsen)

NEW YORK—Nielsen’s TV viewership numbers were understated for February 2021, this according to an analysis of its procedures by the Media Rating Council’s Television Committee. This is an affirmation of the belief by many TV networks that Nielsen’s ratings measurements have been negatively impacted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to MRC, Nielsen’s measurement of Total Usage of Television (TUT) by Persons 18-49 for February 2021 was understated by 2-6%. Also, estimates for Persons Using Television (PUT) among Persons 18-49 were understated 1-5%.

Because of the pandemic, Nielsen has curtailed its in-person visits and decreased the number of homes that participate in its television measurement panels by a reported 20%. This was brought up by the Video Advertising Bureau, which represents TV networks, in April, where they asked for an independent third-party to audit Nielsen’s numbers. Nielsen declined at the time, saying that MRC’s analyses of its numbers are sufficient.

These most recent numbers, however, do support the claim from VAB that Nielsen’s numbers may have been negatively impacted over the last year.

In its findings, MRC said that Nielsen identified 9,400 of its 40,000 TV panel homes that were impacted during the pandemic that in pre-pandemic times would have caused them to be withheld from contributing to Nielsen’s estimates until the issues had been addressed. Of those 9,400, 2,400 had what were considered “high priority” alerts, which are deemed highly likely to impact Nielsen’s ability to collect complete and accurate viewing data. Another 3,000 were classified as medium priority, and the remaining 4,000 were deemed low priority.

Removing these homes in a review of the February 2021 resulted in MRC’s finding of underreporting for TUT and PUT. However, MRC notes that 93% of C3 ratings for persons 18-49 of major networks saw no more than 0.02 change in ratings points.

As a result of the MRC findings, VAB CEO Sean Cunningham is calling for greater scrutiny of Nielsen’s practices, believing that this could just be “the tip of the iceberg.”

For its part, Nielsen said that it has already “aggressively returned to pre-Covid maintenance procedures and will continue to rigorously work with the MRC and its clients to understand the impacts of both the pandemic and changing consumer viewing behaviors on data and analysis.”

The full MRC report is available online