The recent Media Rating Council decision to suspend accreditation of Nielsen’s national and local rating service has highlighted the organization’s important role in the media community. Despite its recent notoriety, the MRC is almost sixty years old, in addition to auditing and accrediting (or not) audience measurement services, it plays a number of other roles in the media community. For example, the MRC investigates rating irregularities, conducts training seminars, develops measurement standards and standardized definition guidelines for audience measurement, and produces “white papers” on a number of topics that media community needs to review.
The origins of the MRC date back to the early 1960s, when a congressional committee held hearings for the purpose and accuracy of audience research and examined regulations related to the television and radio industries. These hearings have been informally referred to as the “Harris Panel Hearings on Ratings”. At the end of the hearings, it was decided that the industry should self-regulate rather than under direct government oversight. As part of the decision was the implementation of independent audits of rating providers and the launch of the industry-funded Broadcast Rating Council (now Media Rating Council) with the directive to review and assess these audits, establish industry standards and accredit audience measurement providers.
Among the initial objectives of the RCN was to;
· Improve the quality of audience measurements available to the industry.
Secure measurement services for the media industry and associated users that are valid, reliable and effective.
· Evolve and determine the minimum disclosure and ethical criteria for media measurement services.
· Provide and administer an auditing system designed to inform users as to whether these measurements are carried out in accordance with the criteria and procedures developed.
Membership in the MRC is available to any business that uses or relies on media research. Since the MRC is an independent, non-profit organization, membership fees are relatively affordable. Currently there are around 160 members spread across a number of different organizations including advertisers, advertising agencies, publications, radio and television owners, business organizations, MVPDs, digital media and global companies. Each member is assigned a seat on the MRC board of directors. George W. Ivie has been the CEO and Managing Director of the MRC since January 2000.
The MRC oversees audits of audience measurement services on which buyers and sellers of media in the advertising community rely. All of the measurement companies that the MRC audits represent tens of billions of advertising dollars each year. Each year, over 100 audits are conducted across the spectrum of advertising-supported media, some of which can be lengthy and arduous. To be accredited, measurement companies must be transparent in disclosing survey methodology and performance in a number of areas, including: sample design, selection, recruitment, data collection, assessment calculations among many other criteria. But in addition, their measurement methods must demonstrate their suitability for their purpose and their operational effectiveness. These audits are carried out by an independent CPA firm hired by the MRC, and are financed by the audited audience measurement company.
The MRC has operating committees divided by media for television, radio, print media, billboards, digital media, etc. which members can join. These members tend to be (although not required) senior research staff in their respective organizations. After being audited, the committee members then vote on whether or not to recommend the approval of the audience measurement service. Due to the sensitivity of accreditation and the full transparency required by the audit process, all members of the MRC are required to sign an MRC Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). However, the CRM produces press releases and public statements on the status of accreditation on an ongoing basis.
While the MRC’s board decision to suspend Nielsen’s accreditation in September garnered a lot of media attention, the organization has played a significant role in many other industry-related measurement issues. Including cross-platform measurement and digital media, two areas that benefit from industry-wide consistency.
In September 2019, the MRC published a 73-page document describing cross-media audience measurement standards. This provided guidelines to help media buyers on how best to use video platforms when targeting consumers. In addition, the document contained guidelines for not tabulating invalid traffic, improved duration reporting, whether audio was playing, and an updated definition of “visible” impressions specifically to be applied for measurement purposes. cross-media.
In 2014, the MRC defined a visible video ad impression as 50% of the visible pixels for two seconds. With the new directive, the definition of a visible video ad impression as used to contribute to cross-media audience reports is 100% of the visible pixels for two seconds or more. The definition of visibility would also be applicable to linear television, streaming video, mobiles and desktops. The document lasted two years, involved 75 companies, 300 people and the collaboration of several professional associations. Two years later, no multiplatform measurement provider has yet been accredited to MRC guidelines.
In August 2021, the MRC released a final measurement document providing additional guidance that separates streaming video from linear TV. This was an update to a 2018 guideline issued by the MRC and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). New guidelines have been included on measuring digital video ads using Server Side Ad Insertion (SSAI), an area that has been susceptible to ad fraud. In addition, the MRC proposed best practice recommendations and a clarification of the terms “OTT” and “CTV”.
Currently, the MRC has developed standardized guidelines for measuring outcome-based measurement and the effectiveness of advertisements such as brand increase, sales increase, and return on investment. There are a number of advertising technology companies active in this area. Similar to the cross-platform document, there will be a period for industry-wide public comment. The document is expected to be released next year.
In the past, under Ivie’s leadership, the MRC has also been actively involved in many rating issues, with the VAB / Nielsen being one of the last. The MRC has been involved in many rating irregularities due to software issues and inconsistent ratings. In 2014, MRC worked with Nielsen to identify a radio programming manager who had manipulated ratings from a portable people meter (PPM).
In 2004, with Nielsen’s introduction of local population counters in ten major markets to replace news broadcasts, the “Don’t Count Us Out Coalition” was formed. The coalition consisted of broadcast stations in these markets which, at the request of Fox-owned stations, wanted to temporarily halt the deployment of LPM. The group cited ethnic groups’ underreporting that needed to be addressed before going online, gaining a lot of media attention in the process. The issue involved the MRC, TV stations, Nielsen, business groups, minority advocacy groups and eventually reached Congress, where Ivie testified at a hearing on the issue. Nielsen proceeded to deploy the LPM even though the MRC had not accredited the LPMs, but eventually obtained the MRC accreditation, which remained in place until the recent suspension.
With the majority of the $ 20 billion invested in the 2021-2022 TV commercial, some have questioned the impact of the suspension of Nielsen’s accreditation. In support of a press release from the Association of National Advertisers said, “The Media Rating Council was created at the request of the US Congress. It is the industry body officially designated to set standards for rating operators, accreditation of rating services, and auditing through designated CPA firms. We fully support the MRC and its work. Although the MRC accreditation process and the rigor that comes with it takes time and resources, it is an indispensable organization. We must support and justify the billions of advertising dollars spent annually in paid media. Fiduciary transactions require a specific fundamental measurement permitted by the CRM. The ANA fully supports the MRC.
Marshall Cohen, former head of research at MTV Networks, Univision and AOL as well as a former board member of the MRC, adds: “My experience goes back to when the MRC was the EMRC (the E was for electronics)! I have always felt that the work of this body is crucial to ensure that research and measurement companies actually do what they claim to do and that they receive a real and honest perspective on their methods. With that in mind, we need the MRC more than ever before. “
Additionally, in a podcast interview on Ad exchangerNielsen CEO David Kenny said, “Nielsen is actively working with the MRC itself and with approved MRC listeners to reclaim accreditation for its old TV ratings, which is a top priority, because people are counting on it right now. . “