The Nielsen Ratings for Amazon’s ‘Thursday Night Football’ Are Coming Under Attack

A trade association that represents TV broadcasters has asked the ratings service to abandon plans to include Amazon’s first-party data in ratings for nighttime games. The request was made to the ratings service.

Nielsen’s plan to incorporate Amazon viewer data into ratings for the upcoming season of Thursday Night Football has sparked a dispute between the company and a trade association representing the industry.

In preparation for the 2023 season, the ratings agency is making preparations to include some first-party data from Amazon as part of the national panel ratings it compiles. The streaming telecasts of TNF games are now on an equal footing with NFL games that are shown on broadcast and cable television thanks to a groundbreaking agreement that was negotiated between Amazon and Nielsen in 2017. Under the terms of the agreement, Nielsen will provide ratings for TNF games. Amazon, on the other hand, published its own data as well, which were frequently a significant amount higher than those published by Nielsen.

Nielsen extended an invitation to sports broadcasters earlier in this year, asking them to participate in a working group that would discuss incorporating first-party streaming data into national averages for live sports. Nielsen has presented its concept to the Media Rating Council, which is a regulatory body that accredits media measurement companies. Thursday Night Football is expected to be the first program of its kind to incorporate both sets of data into a single number. (The MRC suspended Nielsen’s national TV certification in 2021 due to problems with the company’s sample during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, but it reinstated it in April.)

The concept, on the other hand, has been criticized by the Video Advertising Bureau, which is a trade body that includes several other NFL broadcasters among its members. The Video Association of America (VAB), which is known for its frequent criticism of Nielsen, wrote a letter to the ratings provider on Tuesday, requesting that Nielsen abandon its proposal to combine its own data with that of Amazon.

The letter, which was signed by VAB President and CEO Sean Cunningham, states, “We see Nielsen’s articulated NFL plans for Amazon…as Nielsen clearly forcing changes into a highly valued, highly visible, ultra-competitive multi-billion-dollar sports content arena; changes that will greatly benefit one Nielsen client (Amazon) while negatively impacting multiple Nielsen clients (all remainder NFL programmers, distributors, and ad sellers”

The VAB also provided some statistics that cast doubt on Amazon’s data. These statistics included the fact that co-viewing of Thursday Night Football (i.e., multiple people watching the same screen) was 28 percent higher than other national sports telecasts and that both its co-viewing and out of home averages posted much larger gains than NFL broadcasts as a whole. The VAB believes that these statistics cast doubt on Amazon’s data.

Nielsen stated in its reaction on Wednesday that “clients other than Amazon did not immediately decide to take action” and that the company is keeping its fingers crossed that other NFL broadcasters, such as CBS, ESPN, Fox, and NBC, will follow suit in the near future. The letter, which was signed by Karthik Rao, CEO audience membership at Nielsen, also provided clarification over what it referred to as “data misconceptions” in the VAB’s email.

Nielsen stated that while conducting the comparison, it looked just at NFL broadcasts and not at broadcasts from other sports for determining the difference of 28 percent in co-viewing. In December 2022, the average number of people in a household watching a Thursday Night Football game was only around three percent greater than the number of people in a household watching any other NFL contest. This trend lasted for four weeks. While Nielsen did not contest the VAB’s claims of double-digit percentage gains for co-viewing among a selection of families, the company did point out that these gains, when expressed in raw figures, amounted to no more than “one fifth of a person.”

We will continue to modernize and advance media measurement for the future through the use of innovation, in collaboration with our clients and the industry. In the letter that Nielsen sent out, it is stated that the company’s “overall philosophy” is and always has been to employ the best available data, which includes our panel data, for measuring purposes. “While a standardized, respondent-level solution is still our ultimate aim, there is no one source for this data across streaming platforms, which is in contrast to linear TV. We are utilising first-party data as it is made available to us by publishers in order to improve our measurement for both our customers and the industry as a whole. This is being done to meet the expectations of the industry in a world that is increasingly shifting toward a focus on streaming.

During a call with reporters on Tuesday, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus shared his concerns regarding the Nielsen-Amazon partnership: He stated, “Anything that is not impartial and unbiased is unacceptable to us,” and we wholeheartedly agree with him. “I feel obligated to point out that our company views the sudden application of different rules to a single platform as both extremely odd and unfortunate.”

The National Football League, for its part, is not taking a stand on the issue. “I believe that what you are witnessing right now is an endeavor on the part of Nielsen to try to be the best measurement meter that they can be. During a conference call on Wednesday, the league’s chief business and media officer, Brian Rolapp, stated that the league is “certainly supportive of that, all that innovation,” and that “we’ll continue to lean into that.” “I am not intelligent enough to know understand all of the details of how all of the different stats and how it all works, but we are all for any innovation for all of our partners to measure these games precisely…. It is not easy for Nielsen to maintain its position as the statistic of record for this market. And, you know, and it’s made much more difficult by the fact that linear television has changed so significantly while digital is now the dominant form of television. We believe that everyone should work toward determining the optimal measurement because that is the goal that should unite us all.

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