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News Analysis 13 Apr 2021 - 3 min read

Nielsen faces heat on IAB digital measurement contract after Facebook kills alliance; publishers revolt

By Josh McDonnell and Paul McIntyre

Numerous IAB members and publishers have told Mi3 they are frustrated with Nielsen's "clunky" products and thin local service levels and capabilities

The private equity-owned audience measurement giant Nielsen faces widespread market frustration with its digital measurement products and service levels as IAB Australia's tender for a sweeping review of its digital measurement contract is set for release. It comes as advertisers mount a global effort to develop - and fund - a complex and challenging cross-media measurement system via the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).

What you need to know:

  • The IAB is undertaking a strategic review of its online audience measurement services, currently with Nielsen
  • Nielsen has been scrambling to rebuild its measurement systems after Facebook ended a critical global alliance in which Nielsen used the platform's wide audience reach to verify and de-duplicate audiences across publisher sites and advertising campaigns    
  • Venture Consulting has been engaged to manage the tender process and is currently gathering market feedback from key stakeholders.
  • Early feedback and direction is understood to be presented to the IAB as early as next week.
  • Numerous IAB members and publishers have told Mi3 they are frustrated with Nielsen's "clunky" products and thin local service levels and capabilities 
  • Some say the service costs hundreds of thousands to publishers for a simple ranking system that could be easily replicated at a lower cost.
  • Others say Nielsen Digital Content Ratings (DCR) rarely informed media buyer decision-making, with many taking their lead from the costs on various DSPs.
  • Part of the IAB remit is to develop a measurement service future-fit for a cross-media measurement agenda, led for the first time by advertisers via the World Federation of Advertisers. 

“It was a marriage that never should have happened and quickly became too expensive to get divorced from."

Former IAB member

New blood

The IAB’s review of its current digital audience measurement services has sparked fierce debate over the future of a single digital currency in Australia and who the provider should be.

Currently handled by international data and marketing measurement firm Nielsen, the IAB is taking a closer look at its planning, buying and reporting standards.

Venture Consulting is currently running the review - Mi3 understands early feedback from publishers will be presented at an IAB board meeting next week.

The likes of Roy Morgan, Ipsos, Comscore and GfK are among the companies that could bid for the tender alongside Nielsen.

However, a slew of industry players have urged caution in reappointing Nielsen after a tumultuous six-year relationship.

Many expressed frustration with Nielsen as “slow-moving and ineffective” - the company employs 43,000 people globally. They say the pending review allows the IAB to make a “clean break” and select a partner that can “at least manage the simple tasks”.

“It was a marriage that never should have happened and quickly became too expensive to get divorced from,” said one executive familiar with the IAB-Nielsen alliance.

“Often they’d change systems with very little indication or notice and because there are so many points of contact within each publisher and then the IAB board, it became incredibly difficult to get a timely response from Nielsen.”

Others talk of "very poor communication" to clients and the market around what its different measurement products were, how they worked and how they should be used.

As result, they claim metrics are often misused and misrepresented.

“They were late in delivering any mobile and cross-platform measurement products and still offer no connected TV measurement,” says one.

“Other examples include being unable to track sites at the sub-domain level that moved from http to the more secure https, which was one of the key reasons Fairfax pulled out [of the service].

“These limitations make their measurement only part of any digital publishing brand's story.”

Fairfax, now Nine, pulled out of the Nielsen Digital Content Ratings system in March 2018 amid concerns over methodology.

The publisher resumed using the service in October that year after improvements and concerns were addressed.

Another frustration surrounded Nielsen defining a view on Facebook and other third-party platforms with a zero-second exposure - publishers raised concerns over the influence the likes of Facebook and Google were having on the IAB and Facebook's influence on Nielsen's via a global deal which ended in December last year. 

“What would be interesting to see is those companies work together to formulate a solution that saves us from becoming reliant on one source and being forced to completely rebuild if the landscape changes dramatically."

Gai Le Roy, CEO, IAB

Time for a reset

IAB CEO Gai Le Roy declined to comment on the relationship with Nielsen but told Mi3 the timing of the tender, alongside the impending end of third-party cookies and rise of personal identifiers gave the industry body a chance to “reset”.

Le Roy said the IAB may look to “start from scratch” and build a new measurement system alongside its data partners to emulate global trends.

“We’re looking for innovation and longevity, given the rate at which change occurs within digital media but it’s unlikely to come from one singular source. We could see partnership solutions emerge from this process,” Le Roy says.

The expectation from Le Roy is that two or more research firms would work in unison to provide a more comprehensive audience measurement solution.

“Some providers have stronger methodologies and application of research but have gaps in their technology and tools and vice versa,” Le Roy says.

“What would be interesting to see is those companies work together to formulate a solution that saves us from becoming reliant on one source and being forced to completely rebuild if the landscape changes dramatically."

IAB members Mi3 approached - none would talk publicly - believe the process should be focused on finding a simpler and more cost-effective alternative.

They say the current DCR ranking list, released by the IAB monthly based on Nielsen data, has very little sway on commercial dealings with agencies and clients.

“It’s something that publishers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for but ultimately ends up being a press release and not much else,” one said. 

“Agencies aren’t using it as a guiding light for investment, they go off what their DSPs are valuing the inventory at. It makes sense to do away with the ranking or at least find a partner who can replicate it at a more cost-effective rate.”

Le Roy refutes the notion, adding that while agencies may not use it as a point of reference for spend, it is used directionally and for verification of publisher audience volumes and sector trends.

“It isn’t just a publisher level ranking tool, it also includes digital behaviour trends for key sectors such as commerce, banking and retail,” Le Roy says.

“How it is valued is dependent on who you ask. As it comes at a higher cost to publishers than agencies, they are more likely to have a more critical assessment.”

“Our [cross-media measurement] approach to break the deadlock has been to start with the advertiser. We believe that most progress can be made, and consensus arrived at, when the industry aligns around advertiser needs.”

The World Federation of Advertisers

Cross-media measurement: game on 

The review will also consider the future needs for the entire digital market, inclusive of both large and niche publishers across text and video on browsers and apps across desktop/laptop, smartphones, tablets, and CTV.

Le Roy says considering recent developments in global cross-media measurement initiatives from WFA, the IAB must make the “necessary step” to work towards a metric that can work with the “eventual changes”.

However, the move has drawn scepticism from those working with the industry body, labelling the concept a “pipe dream”.

“There are obvious limitations in achieving a singular cross-media currency, namely an array of different measurements in each media category that is still in their infancy,” one former member says.

“Take VOZ for example, it’s still not being used for its desired effect and is a core component of digital video measurement. How can you integrate that into a complete audience metric?”

Another source says without the creation and implementation of a universal ID, cross-media measurement is “virtually impossible”.

Le Roy says, “there’s no instant solution but it’s something we have to work towards and the IAB is in close conversation with several key industry and media organisations.

“The fact that advertisers are driving this conversation for the first time makes you think there will be pressure to address this matter swiftly and cut through the usual politics.”

The WFA is currently coordinating with global brands and national advertiser associations to develop a programme to expedite the implementation of a “new wave” of cross-media measurement solutions.

The global body says separate measurement systems preclude an understanding of true reach and frequency, adding that there are considerable amounts of impressions bought which are driving diminishing or even negative value to advertisers.

It believes there is scope to prevent the wastage of billions of dollars through better measurement which, in turn, improves ROI.

“The barriers to delivering better solutions worldwide are more political and commercial than technological,” according to the WFA.

“Our approach to break the deadlock has been to start with the advertiser. We believe that most progress can be made, and consensus arrived at when the industry aligns around advertiser needs.”.

Le Roy says the IAB's new service and methodology should consider "interoperability" with how a future cross-media measurement system could develop. 

The IAB expects to formally brief measurement partners from May 1, with each provider given four to five weeks to respond.

 

Nielsen responds

Mi3 approached Nielsen for comment. It responded with this statement from Nielsen Pacific Managing Director Monique Perry: 

“Nielsen has enjoyed the privilege of being the leading player in digital measurement in Australia for over a decade. Our focus has always been on providing advertisers, publishers, media buyers and the wider industry with reliable, timely and independent data that allows them to make decisions with the highest levels of confidence and integrity.

“We are particularly proud to have been appointed in 2014 to deliver the market’s first industry-endorsed currency for online audience measurement – a role we have performed in partnership with the IAB Australia ever since. During that time, we have worked with the IAB to innovate and pioneer new ways of capturing, measuring and reporting data as the market evolves and becomes more complex.

“Even with recent challenges due to cookie deprecation and evolving privacy legislation, Nielsen has continued to invest in the most advanced measurement methodologies possible to support and underpin the trading activity within Australia’s digital sector.

“Importantly, our world-leading Data Science expertise has seen a number of international patents filed over the past 12-18 months, allowing us to sustain global leadership in audience measurement. Nielsen is a trusted provider of independent digital measurement in markets across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.

“Locally, we have been collaborating with the IAB on several of these exciting innovations and our plans to introduce them in Australia. In doing so, we have incorporated the best from our overseas learnings into a bespoke approach for the market, effectively producing a future-proof solution as we transition to a cookie-less and privacy-centric environment.

“Nielsen will always strive to enhance delivery speed, measurement capabilities and service levels for the industry, while maintaining the courage to forge new and more sophisticated solutions for the marketplace. We believe our history, global expertise and innovation, combined with our unique understanding of the local market, will enable us to continue to support the IAB in its efforts to deliver global best practice in digital measurement.”

 

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Josh McDonnell and Paul McIntyre

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