CBS at "Contractual Impasse" With Ratings Provider Nielsen

The company says it's seeking a "fair deal" that includes more and better measurement of digital viewing.
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CBS Corp. and ratings provider Nielsen are at odds over a new contract, with CBS saying it's looking for better measurement of multiplatform viewing — and a better price.

The company's contract with Nielsen, said to be worth about $100 million annually, expired on Jan. 1. On Thursday, CBS acknowledged the situation in a statement that alludes to what it sees as Nielsen's shortcomings in measuring the multiple ways people consume TV programming. 

"The entire media industry is aware of the need for complete and accurate measurement across platforms. 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," the CBS statement reads. "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. As a result, we are currently at a contractual impasse, although we continue to be open to negotiating a fair deal that makes strategic and financial sense for CBS. If we cannot come to an agreement with Nielsen, we will continue to employ the many viable alternatives available to us, including Comscore."

For its part, Nielsen said in a statement that "we have an open negotiation with CBS and expect to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement."

CBS' primary beef with Nielsen is in the way it counts — or doesn't count — viewers who watch TV content on other devices. As linear ratings for TV (for decades the currency of the industry) shrink and fragment in the streaming era, networks are seeking ways to count people who watch programming on demand and on mobile devices for their owned-and-operated affiliates.

Since Nielsen is still the accepted standard, however, CBS striking out on its own with Comscore (a leading web measurement provider) or other services could complicate negotiations with advertisers.

CBS Corp. also recently rolled out a proprietary service it calls DNA, which lets advertisers buy "specific audience segments" rather than a broad demographic, acting CEO Joseph Ianniello said on a recent investor call.