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What The Media Rating Council Does

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at November 18, 2021

The recent decision by the Media Rating Council to suspend the accreditation of Nielsen’s national and local ratings service shed a light on the important role the organization plays in the media community. Despite its recent high profile, the MRC is nearly sixty years old, in addition to auditing and accrediting (or non-accrediting) audience measurement services, plays a number of other roles in the media community. For example, the MRC investigates ratings irregularities, they conduct education seminars, they develop measurement standards and standardized definition guidelines for audience measurement and produce “white papers” on a number of topics for the media community to consider. 

The origins of the MRC dates back to the early 1960s when a Congressional Committee held hearings for the purpose and accuracy of audience research and considered regulation related to the TV and radio industries. These hearings were informally referred to as the “Harris Committee Hearings on Broadcast Ratings.” When the hearings concluded it was decided the industry should self-regulate instead of undergoing direct government oversight. As part of the decision was the implementation of independent audits of ratings providers and the launch of the industry funded Broadcast Rating Council (now Media Rating Council) with the directive to review and assess these audits, set industry standards and accredit audience measurement providers. 

Among the original purposes of the MRC was to;

·       Improve the quality of audience measurement available to the industry.

·       To secure for the media industry and related users measurement services that are valid, reliable and effective.

·       To evolve and determine minimum disclosure and ethical criteria for media measurement services.

·       To provide and administer an audit system designed to inform users as to whether such measurements are conducted in conformance with the criteria and procedures developed.

MRC membership is available to any company that uses or relies on media research. Since the MRC is an independent and nonprofit organization membership fees are comparatively affordable. Currently, there are about 160 members cutting across a number of different organizations including advertisers, ad agencies, publications, radio and television owners, trade organizations, MVPDs, digital media and global companies. Each member is given one seat on the MRC Board of Directors. George W. Ivie, has been the CEO and Executive Director of the MRC since January 2000.

The MRC oversees audits for audience measurement services that media buyers and sellers in the advertising community rely on. All the measurement companies that the MRC audits account for tens of billions of ad dollars annually. Each year there are over 100 audits conducted across the ad supported media spectrum some of which can be long and arduous. To get accredited, measurement companies need to be transparent in disclosing methodology and survey performance in a number of areas including; sample design, selection, recruitment, data collection, ratings calculations among many other criteria. But in addition, their measurement methods need to demonstrate fitness for purpose and operational effectiveness. These audits are conducted by an independent CPA firm engaged by the MRC, and are funded by the audience measurement company being audited.

MRC has operating committees broken up by medium for television, radio, print, out-of-home, digital media, etc. that members can join. These members tend to be (although not required) senior research personnel at their respective organizations. After undergoing an audit, committee members then vote on whether to recommend accreditation of the audience measurement service. Because of the sensitivity of accreditation and the full transparency the audit process requires, all MRC members are required to sign an MRC non-disclosure agreement (NDA). The MRC however, does produce press releases and public statements on the accreditation status on an ongoing basis.

Although the MRC’s Board of Directors decision to suspend Nielsen’s accreditation in September gained a lot of media attention, the organization has played an important 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 issued a 73-page document outlining standards for cross-media audience measurement. This provided guidelines to aid media buyers on how best to use video platforms when targeting consumers. Also, in the document were guidelines for not tabulating invalid traffic, improved duration reporting, whether the audio was playing and an updated definition for “viewable” impressions specifically to be applied for cross-media measurement purposes.

In 2014 the MRC defined a viewable video ad impression as 50% of the pixels in view for two seconds. With the new guideline, the definition of a viewable video ad impression as used to contribute to cross media audience reporting is 100% of the pixels in view for two seconds or more. The viewability definition would also be applicable for linear TV, streaming video, mobile and desktop. The document was two years in the making, involved a reported 75 companies, 300 people and the collaboration from several trade associations. Two years later, no cross-platform measurement provider has been accredited as yet using the MRC guidelines.

In August 2021, the MRC issued a final measurement document providing additional guidelines that separates streaming video from linear TV. This was an update from a 2018 guideline issued by the MRC and Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Included was new guidance on measuring digital video ads using server-side ad insertion (SSAI), an area that has been susceptible to ad fraud. In addition, the MRC offered recommendations for best practices and clarification of the terms “OTT” and “CTV”.

At present, the MRC has been developing standardized guidelines to measure outcome-based measurement and ad effectiveness such as brand lift, sales lift and ROI. There are a number of ad tech companies that are active in this area. Similar to the cross-platform document, there will be a period for industry wide public commentary. The document is expected to be issued next year.

In the past, under Ivie’s guidance the MRC has also been actively involved in many ratings snafus with the VAB/Nielsen being one of the latest. The MRC has played a role with many ratings irregularities from software glitches and inconsistent ratings. In 2014 MRC worked with Nielsen to identify a radio programming executive who had manipulated ratings from a portable people meter (PPM).

In 2004, with Nielsen introducing Local People Meters in ten major markets replacing TV diaries, “The Don’t Count Us Out Coalition” was then formed. The coalition were broadcast stations in those markets that, at the behest of Fox owned stations, wanted to temporarily halt the roll-out of LPM’s. The group cited the underreporting of ethnic groups that needed to be resolved before going live, gaining a lot of media attention in the process. The issue involved the MRC, TV stations, Nielsen, trade groups, minority advocacy groups and eventually escalated to Congress, where Ivie testified at a hearing on the matter. Nielsen proceeded with the LPM roll-out even though the MRC had not accredited LPM’s, but ultimately gained MRC’s accreditation, which remained in place until the recent suspension.

With the majority of the $20 billion invested during the 2021-22 TV ad upfront some questioned the impact of Nielsen’s accreditation being suspended. In a sign of support, a press release from the Association of National Advertisers said, “The Media Rating Council was established at the request of the U.S. Congress. It is the officially designated industry body for establishing standards for ratings’ operators, accreditation of rating services, and auditing through designated CPA firms. We fully support the MRC and its body of work. Although the MRC accreditation process and attendant rigor require time and resources, it is an indispensable organization. It is necessary to support and justify the billions of advertising dollars spent annually on paid media. Fiduciary transactions require accurate foundational measurement enabled by the MRC. The ANA stands fully behind the MRC.”

Marshall Cohen, former Head of Research at MTV Networks, Univision and AOL as well as a former member of the MRC Board of Directors, adds, “My experience goes back to when the MRC was the EMRC (the E was for Electronic)! I have always felt that the work of this body was crucial in ensuring that research and measurement companies were actually doing what they said they were doing, and that they received a real and honest perspective on their methods. With that in mind, we need the MRC more now than ever before.”

Furthermore, in a podcast interview on AdExchanger, David Kenny, the CEO of Nielsen said, “Nielsen is actively working with the MRC itself and with MRC-sanctioned auditors to regain accreditation for its legacy broadcast TV ratings, which is a top priority, because people are relying on this as we speak.”

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