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CBS Hints At Alternatives As Nielsen Ratings Contract Impasse Continues

UPDATED with statement from CBS

CBS acknowledged it has reached an impasse in contract negotiations with Nielsen, saying the TV ratings service is using market clout to raise prices even as it has been slow to accurately measure different forms of viewing.

The network said that Nielsen is attempting to force the media company to buy a bundle of services, including services it doesn’t necessarily want. CBS said it would consider turning to alternative measurement services, such as Comscore, if it can’t come to agreement with Nielsen.

“The entire media industry is aware of the need for complete and accurate measurement across platforms,” CBS said in a statement. “While Nielsen has made some strides in this area, progress has not been what we and many clients would like, and local TV measurement is particularly challenged. Despite this backdrop, Nielsen continues to use their market power to bundle disparate services and raise prices for services that don’t sufficiently address ongoing changes in the industry.”

CBS’ contract with Nielsen expired at midnight on New Year’s Eve, sources tell Deadline. The most recent deal was pegged by insiders at about $100 million.

One concern for CBS is Nielsen’s measurement of local TV viewing, which it described as “particularly challenged.” CBS has been using Comscore to measure local viewing for a couple of years. One giant station group, Gray Television, announced this morning that it would expand the use of Comscore in place of Nielsen of its precision.

Comscore is a firm that grew up measuring online audiences, and some media executives feel it does a better job of capturing viewing on multiple screens.

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CBS, like other traditional programmers in the rapidly evolving media landscape, has been wary of the cost of retaining Nielsen given what it considers the limitations of its measurement capabilities. With so much viewing occurring on mobile and streaming devices or via other digital means, plus major tech firms like Google and Facebook able to siphon away ad dollars, there is considerable angst about not having all impressions fairly counted.

Neither company responded to Deadline’s requests for comment on the situation, which first entered the public eye last month as the contract deadline approached.

While measurement has become a four-letter word for the traditional TV business given the enormous stakes in the $75 billion overall TV ad game, CBS has generally taken a more low-key approach than many rivals. NBCUniversal, Fox, Turner and Viacom have openly criticized Nielsen and rolled out self-generated data offerings as a replacement.

Sources familiar with the talks say CBS is prepared to explore alternative ratings solutions, including smaller Nielsen rival comScore. Since acquiring Rentrak in 2016, comScore has pushed to create a viable rival to Nielsen, which has controlled the ratings market for decades.

No one has walked away from the negotiating table, sources say, but the CBS priority is said to be a deal that makes financial sense. The home of Big Bang Theory, NCIS and the Late Show with Stephen Colbert has been the most watched broadcast network for the past 10 years running, but it is increasingly eager to mine demographic assets and not just mass appeal.

The talks with Nielsen are occurring as the company’s longtime ratings guru, Chief Research Officer David Poltrack, is preparing to step down in June. Radha Subramanyam, EVP and Chief Research and Analytics Officer, is overseeing research as Poltrack nears his exit. Subramanyam is a former executive at Nielsen.

Variety had first word of the contract expiration.

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CBS Hints At Alternatives As Nielsen Ratings Contract Impasse Continues

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