January 22, 2019

Recent press reports have suggested that the $130 billion-plus media industry can simply pivot from Nielsen's currency grade measurement with ease and take comfort in using alternative data sets to operate business as usual.  These suggestions are misguided and, at the worst, could be harmful to the stability of the industry and, at the very least, could if taken seriously diminish some important opportunities.

One of Nielsen's main measurement objectives throughout history has been to accurately measure viewers in the most meaningful and representative way.  This has meant spending a great deal of investment and effort into making sure we are using a sample that is representative of the population -- from age and gender to race and ethnicity.

The industry without Nielsen means using a sample that is inherently biased, incomplete and discriminatory; particularly against those excluded from certain data sets -- such as anyone who uses an antenna to watch television or people who can't afford or don't want to pay for cable.  For example, on average a given measurement provider is only able to receive data from 40%-60% of a set-top-box (STB) provider's footprint in a market. Research has shown that homes that return data and homes that do not return data have very different demographic and representation profiles. This data discriminates against lower income and diverse audiences -- particularly Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans.

To overcome bias and coverage gaps, big data sets must be cleaned up and calibrated using a representative panel.  Representative panel-based measurements help data scientists compare and contrast data from STB providers to make the necessary representation adjustments, such as ensuring all racial, ethnic and income levels are fully reflective of the viewing audience.

When it's suggested that the industry can simply pivot away from Nielsen, there is the underlying risk that in doing so diversity and inclusion -- both in terms of measurement and, subsequently, on-screen representation -- become compromised.  The industry would simply have no methodologically sound way of identifying what diverse audiences are watching.  And, marketers looking to reach these unique viewers become hard-pressed to do so -- or worse, believe they are reaching these consumers when, indeed, they are not.  This is an especially important consideration for long term business sustainability as the U.S. consumer population shifts toward a numerical multicultural majority -- expected to happen as soon as 2044 -- according to the U.S. Census.  The entire industry will suffer a setback at a time when it's never been more crucial that we know this information.  The ANA, through a related entity, recently did research showing that marketers are currently spending a disproportionately small fraction of their dollars on these ethnic sectors when they are and will continue to be a principal source of growth for brands[1]

Consumers of color matter.  Aside from the more than $3.6 trillion in annual spending they contribute to the national economy, 21 of the 25 most populated counties in America are multicultural majority geographies.  These consumers are customers, listeners, viewers and constituents.  The proposed alternative data sets do not accurately count these communities; they essentially count them out.  That kind of bias is dangerous and wrong-minded.  Furthermore, ignoring the ethnic market is flying in the face of demographic destiny; what's worse, from a business perspective, it's leaving money on the table.

With more than 90% of the population growth in America over the past 15 years coming from Black, Hispanic and Asian communities, it's our belief that if manufacturers, retailers, content creators and media platforms do not have a multicultural strategy, they do not truly have a growth strategy.  If the media industry does not have inclusive, accurate measurement and methodologies for diverse consumer groups, we are committing economic malpractice.  For these reasons, it's imperative that the market has census-based, person-level accounting for what these consumers are watching, buying and listening to.  Currently, Nielsen is the only provider that accomplishes that.

[1] 2018 ANA/AIMM Multicultural and Inclusive Benchmark Survey

Author

Frank Washington is CEO of Crossings TV, the largest US advertising-supported Asian language network, and member of Nielsen’s External Advisory Council, which advises the company on its engagement with diverse consumers, associates and organizations.

 

 

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