NIELSEN TALKS UP NEW DIGITAL VIEWING DATA PLAN

Move Comes as Cable Networks and Media Agencies Discuss Alternatives

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The battle to determine TV viewing metrics in the digital age continues to heat up as Nielsen Media Research this week makes the rounds to promote the plans it
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announced last week to add DVR viewing to its regular ratings analysis.

Other companies
The move comes close on the heels of meetings between cable companies and media agencies aimed at determining the potential demand for digital-cable-viewing data. Agencies report that other digital measurement companies, such as Portland, Ore.-based Rentrack and Anonymous Media Research, are also offering to track consumers digital-viewing habits.

Nielsen, a unit of VNU, met with cable channels and media agencies July 22 to explain plans to provide both live viewing and live viewing plus seven-day DVR playback figures. ("DVR" stands for digital video recording.) The roll-out is scheduled to begin in local metered markets in April 2005 and nationally later that summer.

Meeting broadcasters
Nielsen is meeting broadcasters, syndicators and agencies this week to explain the company's digital measurement strategy. Nielsen's vice president of communications, Anne Elliot, said, "Phase one of the plan is to add the most basic application [DVRs] and include it in the sample. We're also going to be working on phase two, where we get into things like trick modes. ... We understand it is very important to move in that direction. It is all part of an overall process to put together the pieces."

"Trick mode" is content watched in fast-forward, pause or rewind mode. For instance, viewers use a trick mode when they fast-forward through commercials.

While Nielsen's plans to measure DVR viewing had previously been announced, the company's timetable and decision to offer two sets of TV-viewing data is causing some concern among media services agencies. Richard Fielding, vice president and director of insights and analytics at Publicis Groupe's Starcom, in Chicago, called the issue "very complex," adding, "My view is that I don't get a sense the industry has fully understood the implications."

Bad news for agencies
Some ad buyers characterize the DVR development as great news for broadcasters and bad news for media agencies, because ratings figures (and costs) rise for shows with added DVR playback -- even though both know viewers are actively avoiding watching advertising. Another concern for agencies is that along with the news that they'll be expected to pay more, there's the added problem of losing the context of the spot. In other words, viewers may record a show the night before and watch it when they wake up, but will they be as receptive to beer ads in the morning?

Others view Nielsen's move more positively. "This is simply part of Nielsen having to pay attention to trends in the marketplace," said one agency buyer who did not wish to be named. He added that DVR ratings measurement couldn't come soon enough.

Another said: "It is a significant step to address DVR measurement. We are starting to grapple with the issue, and we have to start with the fundamental question of ratings."

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