CBS is entering the new year in the unusual position of not having a deal with Nielsen, whose ratings are used to measure audiences and in large part determine how much commercials cost when they are bought and sold.
The network's contract with the research company expired at the end of 2018, cutting off its access to the primary source of information about who is viewing its programming and advertising.
While Nielsen is frequently criticized for its ability to accurately count viewers, particular in this time of audience fragmentation and content consumption on an array of digital devices, CBS has generally been a supporter and partner of most Nielsen initiatives.
However, Nielsen’s ratings and the other services it provides are expensive, reportedly costing CBS more than $100 million annually. CBS, under interim CEO Joe Ianniello appears to be pushing for a better deal at a time when Nielsen is under financial pressure from at least one major shareholder to either spinoff or sell or or parts of its business.
In the third quarter, Nielsen reported lower earnings, mostly because of losses at its Buy unit. Revenues for its Watch segment, which includes TV ratings, was up 0.8% to $845 million and revenue for video and text measurement were up 4.7%.
Nielsen is undergoing a strategic review and recently named a new CEO.
Without Nielsen ratings, CBS would probably still be able to sell its commercials to ad agencies, which continue to get numbers from Nielsen. Local station groups from time to time drop Nielsen for reasons ranging from cost to disagreements over how their markets are being measured.
CBS has a history of working closely with Nielsen. In 2017, it was the first network to release Nielsen’s Total Content Ratings for its shows viewed across multiple platforms.
And in 2018, CBS said it was collaborating with Nielsen on an effort to deliver dynamic ad insertion of commercials into live linear broadcast television using automatic content recognition technology from Nielsen’s Gracenote unit.