Advertisers, TV networks plan to set Nielsen alternatives as ‘shadow currencies’ in this year’s upfront negotiations


Nielsen’s numbers will remain the main currency that advertisers and TV networks use as the basis of ad buys agreed upon in this year’s annual upfront negotiations. However, they will begin to seed alternative measurement providers as secondary, or “shadow,” currencies — and in some cases as primary currencies for individual campaigns — in order to establish the baselines needed if they are to eventually replace Nielsen as the primary currency, according to TV network and agency executives.

“If 100% of dollars [were transacted based on Nielsen’s numbers in the upfront] last year, this year that may be 90%. But we do expect to see 30% to 40% of clients trialing or parallel-pathing,” said one agency executive, referring to the practice of tracking alternative providers’ measurements in parallel to Nielsen’s.

For the most part, these secondary currencies will play the role of understudy to Nielsen’s measurements. Upfront deals will be guaranteed against Nielsen’s numbers, but measurement providers like and VideoAmp will be set up to have their numbers tracked in tandem to Nielsen’s. 

This tracking will be designed to address the fact that one reason Nielsen is so difficult for TV ad buyers and sellers to wean themselves off of is because of the years — often decades — of measurement data on which upfront deals are set. That being said, advertisers are also faced with adjusting to new measurements from Nielsen. Not only did the Media Rating Council confirm that Nielsen had incorrectly counted TV viewership during the pandemic, including out-of-home audiences of people watching at restaurants, bars, etc., spurring Nielsen to correct its methodology, but the company is also preparing to launch its new cross-platform measurement product Nielsen One in December 2022.

“This year is all about the learning, the testing the methodology. Really understanding it all, the correlations between other measurements and what we have historically from clients in planning and [media mix modeling],” said a second agency executive.

Some advertisers will go beyond using the Nielsen alternatives as secondary currencies, though, and instead designate them as primary currencies for individual campaigns or for data-driven linear ad buys — i.e. ads that are bought against specific shows because their audiences over-index in advanced targeting categories, like households that own pets or people in the market for a new home — according to agency executives. 

“We want to try to transact and actually guarantee on [non-Nielsen measurements], not overall but to do a few deals in the 2022-23 upfront,” said a third agency executive. “I don’t think there will be a Nielsen upheaval by any means, but we’re doing the work now across several different [TV] network groups to understand what the data looks like.”

“This upfront will see either shadow currencies or trades being made on new currencies despite their gaps. We may also see a few clients move to outcome-based currency models,” said the first agency executive.

TV networks groups have already begun to spotlight Nielsen alternatives that could be adopted as currencies for this year’s upfront deals. ViacomCBS, for example, has deals in place with Comscore and VideoAmp. NBCUniversal, meanwhile, has added as a certified measurement provider. The networks’ eventual aim is to be able to provide multiple measurement options for advertisers to adopt as currencies. 

Asked whether TV network owners will adjust upfront deals’ structure to incentivize advertisers and their agencies to support secondary currencies this year, one TV network executive said they won’t. “It’s in both of our interests [to support non-Nielsen measurements]. I don’t think we need to incentivize them. They’re trying to do the best they can on behalf of their clients. It is up to us to offer them options on how they want to guarantee,” said the network executive.

How many options, though? NBCUniversal’s measurement framework has identified seven measurement providers as “currency contenders.” But the executives interviewed for this article believe that eventually the number of measurement providers universally supported as currencies will be no more than five and more likely three, with one of those spots going to Nielsen.

However, it will be some time until the final buffet of currency options is confirmed. There remain considerations like how to reconcile the different measurement methodologies and corresponding gaps that exist among the providers, for example. And then there’s the aforementioned fact that advertisers are moving from an era in which they had a single source of truth for decades to a current landscape in which they will have to verify a new world order.

“A year’s not going to cut it,” said a fourth agency executive. Having said that, “it’s really smart for us to have something to track for a while and see what’s happening.”

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