Nielsen's Data Accuracy is Under Scrutiny: What Does It Mean for Marketers?

Published: February 16, 2023

min read

Disney Advertising, which owns ESPN and other outlets, recently held an unusual three-hour closed-door meeting with Nielsen executives, spanning key players from across industry segments, to discuss concerns about the accuracy of live sports ratings.

Executives from NBC Universal, Paramount, Amazon, Google, and Apple, as well as the NFL, NBA, and NHL sports leagues, and agencies including Omnicom Media Group, Publicis Media, and WPP's GroupM, also attended the meeting.

The disparities between Nielsen data and other measurement providers were closely scrutinised in the meeting.

According to one of the meeting attendees, the issues discussed included ensuring consistency and transparency across media companies, as well as increasing the scale of measurement coverage and reliability.

As demanded by some meeting participants, Nielsen agreed to provide more details on how it will handle co-viewing and out-of-home measurement in follow-up meetings.

We are focused on helping clients understand impact metrics before any methodology change. We continue to communicate that we will deliver a full year of [historical] data to ensure a smooth transition for the industry ahead of the 2024 upfronts.



The measurement difference between Nielsen and its rival iSpot for the AFC Championship game on CBS and the NFC Championship game on Fox were discussed in the meeting.

There have also been concerns about Nielsen's measurement of "Thursday Night Football" on Amazon Prime, with Amazon's data showing a larger audience than Nielsen figures.

Nielsen reported an average audience of 9.7 million for 11 games this season, compared to 11.5 million reported by Amazon using its own data—an 18.6% difference.

According to people familiar with the situation, Amazon has been dissatisfied with Nielsen, with whom it signed a three-year contract this year, and has been in talks with other measurement and currency providers. Amazon didn’t make any comment on this.

Discrepancy in data measurement between media search companies: A serious threat to marketers?

The streaming market has experienced significant growth in recent years, with key players such as Disney and Netflix introducing ad-supported options, creating new opportunities for brands to connect with their target audiences. As a result, many brands have increased their ad spending on streaming media in order to get their message in front of as many people as possible.

With audiences interacting with advertisements across multiple devices and platforms, accurate cross-platform measurement is critical to understanding campaign performance. The most difficult challenge that marketers face is deduplicating audience measurement, which is especially important during major events, where co-viewing and out-of-home viewership are more common. At such times, marketers rely heavily on the data provided by media search companies for their own calculations.

Minor differences in data measurement between media search companies are acceptable, but larger and persistent discrepancies can cause major issues. Although Nielsen has agreed to provide requested data in further meetings, and has stood by their numbers, only time will tell whether their data proves to be accurate.

At this point, it's essential for brands to recognize that they can't solely rely on the data measurement provided by media search companies for making marketing decisions and investments. In this highly competitive market, it's important for brands to conduct their own research and collect data, rather than solely relying on third-party sources. By doing so, they can better understand their target audiences, make informed decisions, and stay ahead of the competition.


Sarah Johnson

Sarah is an analytical marketing expert with a passion for data-driven insights. She has a keen eye for detail and a talent for turning complex information into actionable strategies. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, travel, and trying out new recipes in the kitchen.


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