The Current State of Media Buying Agencies and TV rating measurement in the US

Is Nielsen still considered the ‘Gold Standard’ for National and Local TV ratings measurement in the US? Short answer, yes. But the playing field has changed.

Let’s keep sight, however, that Nielsen’s unfortunate shortcomings in TV rating measurement during the pandemic by reportedly undercounting audiences in and out of homes led to a suspended accreditation status by the MRC (Media Ratings Council[i]) in September 2021. Despite being stripped of accreditation, the simple fact remains that there have yet to be reliable or universal (National TV and Local TV) industry-wide rating measurement alternatives to emerge as a replacement.  It’s important to note that Nielsen competitors Comscore, Media, and VideoAmp have pending applications for at least portions of their TV measurement services. However, except for Media Monitors for Local TV, none of the named competitors are accredited by the MRC. 

What does this mean for advertisers

What does this all mean for you, the advertiser, your media buying agencies, and guaranteeing your ratings within current or future National and Local TV media buys? Before answering that question, we need to explain better the current state of the media agency buying landscape as we see it. First, let’s face it; media buying agencies have claimed for years that they are understaffed, overworked, and underpaid. In many respects, we agree. Through our work, our clients and we have experienced, in some form or another, holding groups and their agencies struggling to retain and recruit talent, adapt to emerging media buying platforms, and revise remuneration structures to win and keep business. 

Further, the pandemic changed the fundamental ways in which we all approached our day-to-day operations. Advertisers and agencies muddled their way through the first many weeks of the pandemic and quickly figured out how to stabilize, reinvent and restructure their respective businesses to meet the expectations of doing business virtually. However, agency pains were only made more visible at the start of the ‘pandemic’ era, and, in our experience, they continue to find difficulty adapting to the new world. Coupled with the Nielsen rating destabilization narrative, we have observed a monumental and potentially permanent shift in how agencies manage their National and Local TV buying operations.  

Shift in agency buying strategy

As a result, ami+partners and our clients have witnessed holding groups and their agencies quietly shifting their Linear TV media buying strategies. These new strategies include more, ‘hands-off’ buying tactics such as Data-Driven Linear, OTT, and CTV to name a few. This shift in buying strategy is partly to help stabilize client demand but ultimately reduce overhead by minimizing internal workloads. 

For example, DDL (Data Driven Linear) buys offer hyper-targeted audience segments and certain economies of scale. However, without the fundamental requirement of 3rd party verification of delivered ratings, the advertiser is left in a perpetual state of uncertainty (did I get what I paid for?). For these DDL media buys, the agency and advertiser must rely solely on the vendors to provide proprietary and non-verifiable rating data as proof of delivery. In other words, they allow the students to grade their own papers. 

Directing advertisers to shift budgets into DDL types of media buys no longer requires the rigorous demands of in-flight stewardship and relieves the agency of any objective post-performance analysis.    

So, what does this all mean for you, the advertiser, your media buying agencies, and guaranteeing your ratings within current or future National and Local TV media buys? 

Your current agency partner, MSA, and SOW, likely no longer reflect the current state of National TV media buying practices. We recommend reviewing and updating both documents to current Best Practices standards. This may include independent 3rd party stewardship of rating measurement requirements for all National TV buys and involvement in cautiously managing alternative rating measurement sources. 

We also encourage advertisers to consider introducing periodic media financial/staffing reviews of their agencies to verify the appropriate use of FTEs regarding media buying and planning. 

The ami+partners perspective

  • Your current agency partner MSA and SOW are unlikely to reflect current media buying practices. We recommend reviewing and updating both your MSA and SOW documents to current best practice standards
  • Nielsen is still there and still provides the most widely accepted and valuable service
  • There have yet to be established reliable or universal (National TV and Local TV) alternatives 
  • ‘Hands-off’ buying tactics, such as Data-Driven Linear, OTT, and CTV,  will eventually drive Industry-wide rating measurement alternatives to emerge as viable choices  

To learn more about ami+partners, please go to or contact Matthew Reiss, President at ami+partners ( 

[i] The Media Rating Council (MRC) is an organization that is responsible for accrediting audience measurement services in the advertising industry.