Nielsen & The Measurement Mess: Why We Need a Fix Now

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Last Thursday, we learned that for some time now, Nielsen has been undercounting Internet usage. Nielsen informed clients in a carefully worded message that the company is investigating an erroneous decline in its Internet usage data. The notification went on to say that Nielsen would be working closely with the Media Rating Council (MRC) on remedying the situation. Last week, Ad Age covered the Nielsen story quite clearly.

What is remarkable is that while for approximately eight months Nielsen clients have been alerting Nielsen to the fact that inexplicable, counterintuitive declines in usage have been occurring, the company chose to investigate and communicate findings at its own unacceptably slow pace. When Nielsen did communicate that the data that have been out there for months are wrong, the sophistication and good citizenship shown by working with MRC were appropriate.

All of this begs the question of why doing the right thing happens so very slowly and poorly in today’s ecosystem? More importantly, what can we do to rectify the situation? A voluntary governing body, a FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) like MRC with broader empowerment by the entire industry could make a significant difference. For example, an organization like that could have a three month rule, that is, if data appear wrong for three consecutive months across multiple sites, the measurement service producing the data would have to communicate that the numbers are off and explain the steps being taken to rectify the problem.

The latest news from and about Nielsen online measurement just confirms what we at the IAB and our partners at the ANA and the 4A’s already knew: measurement is in dire straits and will stay there unless and until we as a community fix the process. Next time too few people are using the Internet for too little time we should not be looking at almost a year’s worth of bad data and trying to assess the damage.

More on this story from today’s Ad Age »
More on Metrics from the IABlog  |  Previous commentary on Governance in Measurement

Sherrill Mane is Senior Vice President for Industry Services at the IAB.

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