INTERACTIVE: PCMETER FORMS TWO UNITS: WEB MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY SERVICE TO TRACK INTERNET USAGE BY BUSINESSES; NIELSEN READIES PLAN OF ITS OWN

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PC Meter is expanding its measurement reach.

The company, which only last July became a separate subsidiary of parent NPD Group, has split into two divisions, one to provide comparative research on Web sites and one to track consumer and business technology usage trends.

Additionally, PC Meter, whose main business is a monthly report on the most popular Internet sites among consumer households (see chart at right), plans to begin metering out-of-home and business Internet users later this year.

NIELSEN TO ENTER FRAY

With nearly 70 clients, including 20 top ad agencies and 25 media Web sites, PC Meter's goal is to become the "leader in measurement of new technologies and media," said President Mary Ann Packo.

But the company could face significant competition, at least on the Internet measurement front, from Nielsen Media Research, which this year plans to unveil its own household panel.

"We have every intention of measuring the Internet from a panelist perspective," said Dave Harkness, senior VP with Nielsen Interactive Services.

Nielsen plans to unveil its package of services-including a consumer panel, a site-centric measurement service (already in place via a marketing agreement with Internet Profiles Corp.) and a service to help agencies make Internet buying decisions-within two months, Mr. Harkness said.

PC Meter hopes its head start will help it succeed.

The company last fall tapped Bruce Ryon, a former Dataquest analyst, as VP-general manager of the technology division. It's close to hiring an executive to run the media division.

PC Meter separately brought on Mike Naples, former Advertising Research Foundation president, as a senior adviser.

The company bases its business on a panel of 10,000 households that have agreed to attach metering devices to their home computers. The meters measure not only Web site activity but also what software applications a consumer uses, how long the applications are in use and what time of day the computer is on.

TRACKING E-MAIL AND CHAT

PC Meter plans to start tracking e-mail and chat usage as well as activity on online services such as America Online later this year.

"What we're doing is recording everything that's going on on that PC on a daily basis," Mr. Ryon said. "It's a gold mine of data."

And one that clients are willing to pay a sizeable sum for. A full subscription to PC Meter can cost as much as $125,000 annually.

The company has been criticized for focusing only on home computer use, but perfecting the technology for business users has been difficult. There is significant concern about installing a metering device in an office environment, where sensitive data routinely passes through internal networks.

MAC METERS

Ms. Packo said the business meter-as well as a meter monitoring Apple Macintosh computers-will launch later this year.

On the crowded technology research front, PC Meter will compete against market research veterans like Odyssey Research and Mr. Ryon's former employer, Data-quest.

The company will soon issue a revised software usage report and also will take over parent NPD Group's National Survey of Computer Hardware Ownership.

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