Media, Marketers and Agencies Challenge Nielsen's Ratings Monopoly

Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement In Search of New Audience Metric

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NEW YORK ( -- Nielsen Media Research's core business -- TV ratings -- is up for grabs. The Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, a consortium of the top media companies, ad-buying agencies and marketers was formally announced today by 14 of Nielsen's biggest clients as a way to to "provide various constituents of the media business to develop better metrics," said Alan Wurtzel, NBC Universal's research president.

Although Mr. Wurtzel insisted that the CIMM is "not an alternative to Nielsen," the coalition's main goal is to essentially pit Nielsen against rivals. The group plans to initiate a request-for-proposal process to identify the best sources of set-top-box data from digital video recorders and of cross-platform measurement of TV viewing.

A lot to lose
Nielsen has a lot to lose should its competitors successfully bid for a piece of its media-measurement business -- some $600 million to be precise, or the annual amount the company takes in from TV ratings licensing revenues alone.

Still, CIMM members are extremely diplomatic when asked about what its efforts mean for Nielsen. "I know everyone has to ask the Nielsen question but in some ways that's taking the focus off what is really a tremendous opportunity for everybody," said Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, president of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna. "We have all these major companies with, in many cases, disparate interests, coming together to work on something and offer innovation in an area that everyone believes is important. And hopefully it's the first step towards some real innovation."

The 14 initial members of the coalition represent a cross-section of Nielsen's largest media company, agency and marketer clients: Time Warner, ESPN, Disney Media Networks, News Corp., Interpublic Group's Mediabrands, Viacom, Starcom MediaVest Group Worldwide, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, AT&T, WPP's Group M, CBS Corp., Omnicom Media Group, Discovery Communications and NBC Universal. Initial reports of the group's forming first surfaced in August.

A Nielsen spokesman said the company supported the coalition's efforts to invest in cross-platform media measurement and set-top-box data "because we want the same things for our industry." He added that the company will be participating in the RFP process, but disagreed with the notion that CIMM's goal was to create an alternative to Nielsen's TV ratings.

Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting, valued the coalition's initial investment in new-media measurement "in the seven-figure range, with a multi-year commitment to proposals that come to us."

"Vendors will basically offer up to the organization some proposals in which they would do the work and see if these are promising leads we would foster," Mr. Wurtzel said. "It really has nothing to do with the individual businesses."

Goals remain uncertain
Yet the coalition's ultimate goals remain uncertain at this stage. "I don't think we know exactly what the results of our efforts are going to be," Mr. Wurtzel said. "We want to be driving more experimentation, encouraging new thinking and new ways of measuring content consumption."

As one CIMM member told Ad Age last month, "We're recognizing no one company is going to do this. There has to be some agreement across the industry. We can't just keep spending more and more on research to measure ever smaller and smaller things."

Whether CIMM defines itself as an anti-Nielsen consortium, the research company's flaws have long been called into question by advertisers, networks and media agencies looking for a single-source data stream that most effectively equates TV viewing with streams on other platforms like the web and mobile devices. NBC, for example, has its own proprietary tool, Total Audience Measurement index, which the company employed for sponsors of its Olympics coverage in Beijing last summer.

"Certainly everyone is looking for something that has a single source. That's what everyone wants," said Magna's Ms. Brady. "Whether or not we will get there is a different issue. We're looking to come up with solutions that work and give us better information."

The top media companies are also actively investing in TV Everywhere, a distribution initiative that would enable cable-network content to be watched online in a Hulu-like streaming experience, and eventually be measured the same way viewers watch TV. Nielsen told Multichannel News yesterday that the company is prepared to measure multiplatform viewing through a TV Everywhere-like platform, but not until 2011.

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Contributing: Michael Learmonth, Michael Bush

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