Q&A with VAB CEO Sean Cunningham on the trade org’s role in the TV ad industry’s measurement makeover
By Tim Peterson
It took a pandemic to push the TV advertising industry to update its measurement system. Plus a nudge from the VAB, the trade organization that represents TV network owners.
Last April the VAB alleged that Nielsen had undercounted linear TV viewership during the pandemic. The Media Rating Council subsequently confirmed that claim, and then all hell broke loose. TV network owners, including Disney, NBCUniversal, Paramount and WarnerMedia, are adding support for alternative measurement providers, and some advertisers and their agencies are planning to set these Nielsen alternatives as “shadow currencies” in this year’s upfront negotiations.
In an interview, VAB CEO Sean Cunningham discussed the work that the trade organization is doing to create new standards for TV measurement, when those standards will be announced and whether the VAB can be an objective party considering it counts some measurement providers — but not Nielsen — as dues-paying members.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
It’s been nearly a year since the VAB alleged Nielsen was undercounting viewership during the pandemic. Since then, you’ve formed the Measurement Innovation Task Force to create “unified best practices and standards for the national TV ad industry.” With the task force, where is the VAB in terms of progress on creating those best practices and standards?
We’ve actually been busier than we thought we would be because we had a second discovery of a second layer of undercounting that was in late December, very innocuous few sentences from Nielsen of 16 months of undercounting. We actually found through exhaustive analysis that there had been this second layer of significant undercounting that was brought by the omission of an entire dataset that went back to September 2020. So we were busier than we thought we’d be on doing more forensic work than we thought we’d need to. But it was important work. It revealed an undercounting of another 54 billion impressions and another $700 million worth of advertising that couldn’t be bought or sold.
The other thing we’re doing is we are moving along with the establishment of standards around content, context, quality, duration, which is quite the undertaking and definitely a team sport. We’ve scoured the landscape of the full compendium of work that’s been done on it to date, which is extensive. We ultimately want to bring to the marketplace and to our friends at the [Association of National Advertisers], for cross-media measurement, not only the best of all the current thinking but taking it to a place that anticipates the needs of [the 2023-24 upfront cycle] and cross-media measurement and putting very visibly, very transparently in front of the whole marketplace the best compendium of what we think are the fairest standards on content, context, quality and duration.
On that first point and even going back to last year, how are you able to determine that Nielsen has been undercounting? What are the data sources you’re using here?
It’s Nielsen. I mean, we’re using their own data. In this most …read more