Behind Billions of Lost TV Impressions
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Behind Billions of Lost TV Impressions

How the Nielsen audience undercount took nearly 30 billion ad impressions out of the TV marketplace

As you saw in the news, VAB Insights, in collaboration with the VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, uncovered the staggering size and scope of the recent self-admitted Nielsen audience undercount, reported in late December.

Nielsen presented this 16-month error as having “some” impact, however, understanding the importance of transparency and the accuracy of audience delivery to both advertisers and content producers we began investigating.

We uncovered five key statistics (which—based on 8 of 16 months of Nielsen data available to date on impressions, and 7 of 16 months of Nielsen data available to date on ad dollars—quantifies only 50% of impressions and 44% of dollars from the total time period):

  • 30 billion ad impressions were not counted
  • 400,000 people were not counted each night in primetime TV
  • 10.5 billion A18-34 ad impressions went uncounted
  • 7 billion Black ad impressions & 5.5 billion Hispanic ad impressions were not counted
  • And as a result, there was $350 million worth of ads that marketers could not buy

This compounds Nielsen’s first admitted 2021 error which translated to the MRC issuing their first-ever audience adjustment factor (1-5%) and the loss of approximately $450 million – $2 billion in ad dollars.

What does this mean for you? 

For advertisers, this audience undercount means there were billions of linear TV impressions unavailable to you to buy, particularly in high-profile, high-engagement programming like live sports and tentpole entertainment events. It also means that any analysis, strategy or investment decisions made on the performance of your campaigns during this period were based on undercounted audiences. It may be important to reexamine your campaigns over the last few months with this context.

For sellers, quite simply, the undercount means that millions of dollars’ worth of inventory wasn’t available for you to sell, particularly in the coveted and elusive 18-34 demo and top tier programming like live sports and premier entertainment events. Additionally, advertising campaign performance and programming audience was undervalued and underreported potentially impacting future investment from advertisers.

What’s Next? 

To quantify the entire magnitude of this error for the industry, we will perform a complete analysis once the revised data for the entire 16-month period is available (late February).

These continued errors of wrong numbers and minimal disclosure need to serve as the opposite example of what the buy/sell multiscreen TV marketplace needs from its next set of currency providers, including Nielsen. We will demand better for the industry. 

Behind Billions of Lost TV Impressions

Behind Billions of Lost TV Impressions

How the Nielsen audience undercount took nearly 30 billion ad impressions out of the TV marketplace

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