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CNBC, the financial news channel, has complained that its viewing figures of less than 200,000 were a gross distortion because the Nielsen ratings only measured homes, not gyms or offices where potentially millions of viewers are glued to Jim Cramer et al. Viacom, owner of MTV and Comedy Central, which has also suffered ratings declines, went as far as to define a “non-Nielsen” advertising goal for sales on digitally delivered content. WPP, the world’s largest advertising group, which has stakes in ComScore and Rentrak, has advocated a combination of the two and said Nielsen is “not up to scratch”. CBS has accused it of a “blatant attempt to hide the impact” of flawed audience data a year ago.
It is true that Nielsen has struggled to adjust to new viewing habits. The shift to on-demand is not being captured by Nielsen’s method of sampling households. ComScore is ahead online, and Rentrak brings video-on-demand and cinema measures.
And yet if Rentrak is the answer, why has it not been able to demand a better price? ComScore’s all-share offer values the target at about $800m, after a 9 per cent after-hours jump in the ComScore stock, a 20 per cent premium. Rentrak’s shares were already rated more highly than ComScore or Nielsen’s, but they have traded above the acquisition price as recently as August. It is the fastest growing of the three, with annual revenues rising at 36 per cent compared with Nielsen’s 10 and ComScore’s 15.
Rentrak’s failure to meet revenue expectations in recent quarters shows that success is not assured. Nielsen, meanwhile, has renewed reason to succeed with its new Total Audience Measurement, targeted for release at end of the year and aiming to capture TV and digital. The moaning is sure to continue, either way.
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