The TV Ad Industry’s Chance to Kill the Gross Rating Point Is Finally Here

Dave Morgan
Dave Morgan  |  Chief Executive Officer
Updated: Oct. 15, 2021
Published: Sep. 28, 2021

There is no greater inertial force in the world’s nearly trillion dollars of annual media and marketing expenditures than the resilience of the sex/age demo-defined currency that drives virtually all U.S. television ad spend.

Even folks in the industry with their proverbial heads in the sand -- or maybe especially those folks -- know about the recent controversy about Nielsen's panel-based national television advertising currency and its suspension by the Media Rating Council due to data collection issues during the COVID-19 lockdown. This controversy will neither kill the Nielsen panel nor its importance to today’s TV industry.

However, if we are lucky, the current kerfuffle between Nielsen, the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) and the MRC will kill the real nemesis to modernizing the TV and video ad industry -- the sex/age, demo-defined gross rating point (GRP) as the primary planning, buying and measurement metric. Instead, long live the digital and data-defined audience impression as the primary metric for the future of scaled, premium video advertising on TV and similar high-engagement video advertising.

For decades, marketers and media professionals have bemoaned the fact that they needed to convert tightly defined strategic marketing targets -- affluent, young car buyers with a desire for sports cars, for example -- into blunt, broad, fluffy sex/age demographics (Adults 18-34, for example) as the primary metric for the planning, buying and measurement of their TV ad campaigns.

Sure, agencies and networks could apply filters on top of those to try to better ensure that they could maximize the delivery of those strategic targets; but good luck getting the networks or agencies en masse outside of a couple of advanced TV ad players to guarantee the campaign against the tight strategic target. And even tougher luck if you want the kind of reach and frequency guarantees that you’re used to getting from pure digital ad players.

That world is now going to change -- and change fast, I hope. Nielsen is already working on its replacement to its legacy TV ad panel -- called Nielsen ONE -- with the promise of granular, cross-screen metrics for planning, buying and measurement. The VAB and its member TV networks are all now promoting audience-based impression buying as their future (as is Nielsen). And the MRC is already certifying digital ad platforms and suppliers for cross-channel granular audience measurement.

I’m not Nielsen’s apologist, but the enemy here isn’t Nielsen. They are the messenger. The enemy has been the media industry’s decades of resistance in leaving the sex/age demo GRP behind as the core metric. We’ve needed to rip the band-aid off for years. Finally, everyone is in agreement to do it, and to do it now. It will be a nice thing when it happens, even if it creates some new winners and losers, but that’s a blog for the future!


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An earlier version of this blog was originally published by MediaPost.