What does the US ‘JIC’ announcement actually mean?

The seven key questions

Since the announcement of the formation of a JIC in the US earlier this week, there has been much discussion within our asi community about what exactly this means. Is it really a JIC? What implications does this have outside the US? In this article we attempt to answer a series of questions that have followed the announcement. If you disagree with this interpretation, then please do let us know:  starting a debate on key issues is an important part of what asi is all about.

 1.   What has been announced?

On 9th January 2023, Fox, NBCUniversal, Paramount, TelevisaUnivision, Warner Bros. Discovery and the VAB announced ‘the formation of a new Joint Industry Committee (JIC)’ in the US.  This new entity will ‘enable multiple currencies’ by providing certification for measurement services and creating a unified streaming viewership dataset through partners OpenAP (OpenAP is the Advanced Advertising Platform owned by the largest US TV networks). Notable by its absence is Disney, which owns two major broadcast networks, ABC and ESPN.

2.   But aren’t JICs illegal in the US?

For many years the widespread belief has been that, if broadcasters (and other parties) came together to jointly commission a media currency, that would be anti-competitive and violate antitrust laws. That interpretation has not been successfully challenged up to now and Nielsen has had a near monopoly of TV measurement in the US.  The cost of establishing a service has been too prohibitive for others to make the attempt since a failed initiative by AGB in the late 80s. This ironically was supported by the broadcasters only for them to use the new entrant to negotiate a new arrangement with Nielsen.

However, the rise of IP-delivered TV and data science is in theory reducing the barriers to entry, making competition more feasible and giving rise to alternative audience measurement suppliers. The blurring of boundaries with digital and the proliferation of new entrants makes it a much more competitive landscape. These alternative suppliers offer the promise of providing what have been called ‘alt currencies’ for trading TV airtime.

3.   So why isn’t this JIC illegal?

To be frank, it is legal because it’s not remotely a JIC as we would know it in the rest of the world.

Firstly, it is not commissioning a single currency. It is looking to accredit a range of suppliers like Comscore, VideoAmp, iSpot, Samba and others. ‘JIC’ members could then choose which approved services to use. In that sense it does not infringe US competition laws as the ‘JIC’ members are not clubbing together to fund one service as they do in conventional JIC countries like UK, Germany, Italy, France, etc.

It should be noted that in countries like the UK there has been a deliberate redefinition of the JIC. Whereas the C used to stand for ‘Committee’ it now stands for (Joint Industry) Currency. However, the US has gone with ‘Committee’ as this will be a committee that endorses a whole range of currencies, not just one.

Secondly, it’s not a JIC as it (so far) only includes broadcasters. The international understanding of the term JIC is that the ‘I’ stands for the whole media industry, both the sell and the buy side, including agencies and advertisers. This US ‘JIC’ is broadcaster-only and is a MOC – a Media Owner Committee.

The organisers of this ‘JIC’ have stressed that their lawyers believe what they are doing is legal which is ironic as it is legal precisely because it isn’t a JIC. After all, the phrase ‘JIC’ isn’t illegal. Any collaborative group may be free to call themselves a JIC if they don’t behave like one and, for example, commission a single currency – in the same way it was acceptable for a punk band to call themselves the Stranglers so long as they didn’t strangle anyone.

4.   If it isn’t a JIC, why is it calling itself a JIC?

Over the years the constant refrain has been that US media measurement has been held back by the absence of JICs for TV, radio, print, etc. Meanwhile the launch of initiatives like CIMM were misinterpreted initially as being JICs and have had to insist they weren’t. There was clearly a pent-up demand for something called a JIC and the announcement of yet another measurement Council, Coalition or Consortium would not have had the impact that announcing a JIC has had. It would seem the attitude is that if they don’t behave like a JIC, then why not just call themselves a JIC? Clearly the broadcasters want to be free to use multiple currencies and they want those currencies to have credibility. This seems to be a way they can accredit these currencies and trade with them as being ‘JIC-certified’.

5.   What does this mean for the MRC?

Whilst much has been made of what this means for Nielsen, an equally important question is what does this mean for the MRC (Media Ratings Council)? Isn’t this ‘JIC’ doing what the MRC does? After all, it was the removal of Nielsen’s MRC accreditation that sparked this latest crisis in the first place (see our recent interview with MRC’s George Ivie here).  Some observers have commented that the window of opportunity is finite, with the full Nielsen One service due to launch in two years. Those who want to use alt. currencies want to do so with some urgency and this JIC could be a way of fast-tracking alternative currencies to credibility with the buy side, a faster track than would be possible via the MRC. It may also be considerably cheaper for the new measurement providers.

6.   How does this fit into the WFA North Star cross-media initiative?

It doesn’t. Not only is the ‘JIC’ broadcaster-only, potential for future membership will be for ‘other qualified premium video programmers’, by implication excluding Facebook, Google, TikTok, etc. Meanwhile Google and Facebook are working with the ANA in the US, with a tender process underway for a panel to be used as a source of truth for cross-media fusions via the VID model.

Effectively the buy and the sell side are pursuing their own solutions. The buy side are desperate to be able to measure all forms of video to understand reach and frequency. The broadcaster sell side are concerned that such an approach will commoditise video advertising and diminish the importance of premium environments and context. They hope that the use of alt. currencies will give them the ammunition they need.

Which of these multiple currencies should an ANA cross-media solution look to align with, or will it create yet another measurement of video? It should be noted that broadcasters in the UK are also not currently engaged with the ISBA Origin project for similar reasons, whilst in other markets they are watching with concern.

7.   Should other markets be worried?

Yes.  It can be argued that the importance of this week’s US announcement to the rest of the measurement world isn’t about whether this is or isn’t a text-book definition of a JIC. Neither is it about what happens to Nielsen or even the concept of multiple currencies, which most other countries find an insane idea anyway. At heart it’s importance may lie in what it tells us about the direction of travel in the relationship between advertisers, agencies and broadcasters.

A genuine JIC, together with the MRC would, in principle, represent the interests of all sides of the US industry when they endorse methodology and release data. Whereas this proposed initiative is wholly accountable to the interests of the subset of broadcasters who are sponsoring it. It’s credibility with the buy-side must be very much open to question.

Fundamentally, multiple currencies will only work if there’s an agreed exchange rate between them. And that will be impossibly complex to develop due to the differences in input data, audience definitions and measurement scope between the various alt providers.

This initiative highlights a worrying breakdown in the collaborative engagement of the buy and the sell side when it comes to the measurement of all video. If it proves to be successful, it could be the harbinger of a major challenge to the future of true JICs, JICs that represent consensus across the wider media industry.

At asi we’ll be further discussing the implications in an upcoming series of podcasts. In the meantime, do let us know your thoughts and perspectives. You can comment below or email us at admin@asiconferences.com.