During her tenure at NBCU, soon-to-be Twitter CEO Linda Yaccarino, ad sales director, was among the first ad sales executives to repeatedly and vocally advocate for improved audience measurement. Her complaints are directed primarily at Nielsen
Among the issues that Jacarino was critical of were; No out-of-home measurement, insufficient sample size, long turnaround time for delivery of baseline assessments, and no reliable cross-platform measurement tool available.
Back in 2015 to underscore its dissatisfaction with Nielsen, Yaccarino replaced them with Cogent Reports to measure CNBC’s business news network. Yaccarino cited Nielsen’s inability to measure any show outside the home such as offices, gyms, floors of trade rooms, and locations where CNBC is often watched. At another time, NBCU estimated that because of Nielsen, 12% to 30% of the total audience is not metered. (It wasn’t until September 2020 that Nielsen began including home viewing for its ratings.)
Also, when Nielsen announced its nationwide household sample expansion from 25,000 households to 40,000, Yaccarino said it still wasn’t enough. Again, quoting CNBC, the ad sales manager noted that the cable networks’ ratings were based on just nine households. With this little sample “God forbid one of these guys go on vacation in the summer — my rating is down 20%.” Yaccarino noted that (at the time), NBCU’s parent company Comcast
Yaccarino also criticized the three-week period it took to get C3 (and C7) ratings. (Since 2007, the basis of most ad buying negotiations has been C3 ratings which measure audiences for commercial ratings within three days of their first broadcast.) Despite the long turnaround time, advertisers receive only basic ratings information (i.e. gender and age) which is incomplete. She called it almost useless. At the same time, digital media has been providing marketers with a treasure trove of data with a shorter response time.
Yaccarino also addressed the shortcomings of digital media. At a 2017 NBC presenter, Yaccarino, in front of hundreds of advertisers, commented that digital media had an unaddressed brand integrity issue. In addition, she indicated a severe lack of media scaling. She commented, “We can’t rate our homework. I mean, what the hell is a ‘view’ anyway? Has he ever ‘offered’ to buy any of your products? Has ‘like’ ever walked into the store?” Facebook claimed to have 18 to 24 more users than there actually are. She also said, “If NBC is serving non-human traffic, or is involved in any kind of fraud or what we call the bottom of the business, we will testify in Washington.” Shortly thereafter, Yaccarino reached out to Google and Facebook for a conference to address scaling issues.
In early 2016, Nielsen began work on a new cross-platform measurement product; Total content ratings. TCR is designed to measure all video audiences across all sources. In December 2016, Nielsen began providing subscribers with their own internal data, with plans to go live on March 1, 2017, in time for the 2017-18 in advance. While a number of content providers and advertising agencies have endorsed TCR, NBCU has not.
Advertising age Linda Iaccarino stated that she sent a letter to Nielsen requesting that the launch of the TCR be delayed, citing that the new product was incomplete. Yaccarino noted the lack of full industry involvement in the product (eg, Hulu) and “disparate digital data collection methods using a combination of panel, tally, and ad hoc measurement (YouTube) that has yet to be examined.” While endorsing the need for a comprehensive cross-platform measurement tool, Yaccarino noted, “Some say, ‘Something is better than nothing.’ We disagree. Bad, inaccurate, and misleading data is far worse than no data at all.” Without NBCU and its estimated $10 billion in advertising revenue, TCR’s offering was severely weakened.
No longer waiting for Nielsen, in 2018 NBCU developed its own cross-platform metering tool with the introduction of CFlight. NBCU called it “the industry’s first standardized advertising metric”. CFlight provides marketers with how and where to display their ads. The idea was to offer advertisers a new negotiation currency along with audience guarantees. “Consumer behavior has changed the way our content is consumed, and it is time for metrics to offset and show the true power of premium video,” Yaccarino said. At the time, NBCU had a third of their long-form video content viewed on higher platforms.
As Nielsen faced audience measurement challenges from various ad tech companies, in December 2020 the measurement company announced its latest cross-platform measurement initiatives; One Nielsen. Yaccarino was an early supporter. I mentioned how Saturday Night Live Watched on NBC and seen on Peacock and YouTube along with other devices, it will benefit from additional reported viewership. One year late, Nielsen One
The following year with Nielsen’s reliance on MRC suspended, NBCU convened a meeting of ad agencies, prominent advertisers, and trade groups to review proposals from dozens of audience measurement companies (including Nielsen). Linda Iaccarino said, “It is unlikely that there will be a single-standard, single-currency company in the future.” Adding, “We are very optimistic about the fact that all the key stakeholders have been involved. We need to work together.”
In 2021, NBCU will host its first annual pre-programming conference to provide a forum for the advertising community on measurement. The event highlighted the partnerships NBCU has with advertising technology companies, its use of first-party data and the best ways to enhance targeting. At the 2023 event, NBCU invited rival media companies to its forum including Paramount
With Linda Yaccarino gone, one of her lasting legacies will be making ad sales managers champions in working to improve audience measurement. Last month, the so-called “common industry committee” was attended by several advertising sales managers. This has not always been the case.