The deadlock between CBS, America’s most popular TV network, and ratings company Nielsen continues, with many seeing it as a fundamental challenge to the way viewership is measured.

The stalemate between the two companies has left CBS out of contract with Nielsen since the end of December 2018.

The TV giant argues the 95-year-old market research company has not kept pace with radical changes in the way TV content is consumed, and so must be measured, the FT reported.

Nielsen’s ratings underpin the entire $70bn TV advertising industry in the States, with its viewing figures used to set ad rates.

This has caused concern ahead of the country’s most watched event, Superbowl LIII, which CBS airs next month. However, as Adweek has reported, ads appear to be selling just as strongly as last year, with 30-second slots going for over $5 million.

In 2018, the Superbowl broadcast, which was watched by 103.4 million viewers, generated revenue of around $500 million. Importantly, though, ads are not sold with rating guarantees, so revenue should not be affected, even if CBS and Nielsen are still at an impasse by then.

CBS maintains that Nielsen’s figures no longer reflect actual viewership. In a statement it said the ratings agency continues to use its market power to “bundle disparate services and raise prices for services that don’t sufficiently address ongoing changes in the industry”.

As online streaming has drawn viewers away from the traditional TV set, media companies say that Nielsen has not kept pace with changing viewing habits. The result is that media owners have watched for years as their viewing figures appear to drop, causing executives from groups including Viacom and NBCUniversal to claim Nielsen’s ratings are “useless”.

Most observers believe, however, that CBS will eventually have to reach terms with Nielsen. Brian Wieser, analyst at Pivotal Research, told the FT that the row was “highly unlikely to end with anything other than a renewal in the next couple of weeks”.

“Media owners who wish to sell their advertising need to work with Nielsen or otherwise risk losing meaningful revenue while their stations go unmeasured by Nielsen,” he added.

But, according to the FT, many in the industry are quietly cheering on CBS. It reports one executive as saying, “No one likes dealing with Nielsen. CBS is the public manifestation of an industry-wide set of frustrations with Nielsen about the data they provide and the prices they charge for it.”

Nielsen said it had an open negotiation with CBS and expected to arrive at an agreement.

Sourced from Financial Times, Adweek; additional content by WARC staff