The move is not surprising given Simmons' difficulties in the last few years with its syndicated study, seen by many as second to market leader Mediamark Research Inc.
To help implement the plan, Paul Donato, formerly senior VP at Audits & Surveys, has been named to the new position of CEO at Kantar Media Research, the London-based marketing research organization owned by WPP Group.
"The winners here are [WPP Group's Chief Executive] Martin Sorrell and Paul Donato," said one industry executive, noting WPP needed to improve its research unit in the U.S. as it expands globally and Mr. Donato needed more resources to expand his print study.
In his new position, Mr. Donato will oversee the new print research product based on Audits & Surveys methodology and build a worldwide network of research products. Kantar Media Research does print studies in the U.S. and U.K., as well as TV and radio studies in India, Latin America, New Zealand and the U.K.
AID TOBACCO ADVERTISERS
The new venture's study will also accommodate the needs of tobacco advertisers looking for a method of research that would allow them to adhere to self-regulation policies that bar advertising to minors, said Mr. Donato.
Audits & Surveys' primary and total audience surveys, based on questionnaires mailed to a database compiled from a magazine's circulation list, were launched last year. Simmons has struggled in recent years to re-establish its credibility after a poorly received 1994 switch to methodology that mirrored MRI's "recent reading" surveys.
That incident fueled an industrywide debate about the best way to measure print readers, a controversy still unresolved.
To gather its data, MRI uses personal interviews that require participants to commit to a time period long enough to cover questions about more than 200 magazines; they must also fill out a product information book.
A&S argues that its methodology, using a mailed questionnaire, puts less burden on respondents. MRI argues that a mailed study often has low cooperation rates, and therefore isn't up to the standards of information gathered through a personal interview.
"I think it's very healthy. The industry certainly doesn't need two recent-reading studies," said Erwin Ephron, partner in media researcher Ephron Papazian & Ephron.
With this latest move, however, magazine industry executives believe it won't be an "either/or" situation anymore, since the two products offer different services. MRI will be the syndicated research provider with product information, while A&S/Simmons Magazine Metrics will be able to measure more than 600 magazines with the main purpose of providing audience information.
"We certainly think it is better to have two viable services rather than just one," said Steve Blacker, senior VP-market research for Conde Nast Publications, who added that his company plans on supporting both syndicated services.