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MEASURING THE INFO SUPERHIGHWAY AUDITS & SURVEYS HOPES TO TRACK NOT JUST VIEWERS, BUT ALSO THEIR TRANSACTIONS

By Published on .

NEW YORK-How do you track audience flow on an information superhighway where viewing and transaction data will move as fast and voluminously as trading in a Wall Street commodities pit?

You do it the way Wall Street does.

That's the thinking of Audits & Surveys, a leading marketing and media research company that has hooked up with Falconwood Securities, a leading developer of program trading systems for Wall Street commodities pits.

The companies are exploring the potential of computerized systems that could lead to an "automatic transaction accounting system" for the superhighway.

In simple terms, Audits & Surveys hopes to develop a new TV ratings system that would track not just what people are watching but also transactions from pay-per-view to telephone services to home shopping.

An important byproduct could be transforming the TV ad marketplace from one that is like a commodity market into one that is literally a commodity market.

"Will options be available? Will futures be available?" asked Paul Donato, senior VP-media and communications research at Audits & Surveys. "We think it could lead to that because the structure will be there for that and it may make sense to do it. But a lot of that depends on whether the major media companies want to move in that direction."

Mr. Donato said the ad industry is already moving toward "computerized trading," where media buys are requested and placed via computer.

Indeed, the cable and spot broadcast TV industries have begun developing computerized systems that will enable ad agencies to automatically see what spots are available.

The next stage is expected to be on-line ordering systems, enabling agencies to place a buy at the push of a button.

Once those systems are in place, Mr. Donato said, it will be feasible to develop software systems that can make buying decisions without human intervention.

"There's no question that we will need smart systems to analyze the incredible amount of material that's going to be provided," said David Poltrack, senior VP-research and planning at CBS. But he called the prospect of deals being made between computers without human intervention "highly unlikely."

His skepticism is consistent with other network executives. But as Mr. Donato noted, it is not the "three networks and a handful of advertisers" that have motivated the move to computerized buying systems, but the cable TV industry.

"This is the next logical step," he said, adding that Audits & Surveys' initiative is part of long-term plan to become a major player in the TV research field.

Audits & Surveys is handling research analysis for several leading interactive test beds and has already developed a low-cost laboratory for advertisers to experiment with interactive ads and track audience response.

The company is also developing a new ratings meter it hopes to deploy soon in a major TV market.

Several other research companies are expected to enter the ratings field soon to compete with Nielsen Media Research, following the broadcast networks' recent announcement that they have started their own TV ratings lab and are open to Nielsen rivals.

Mr. Donato said Audits & Surveys will deploy a ratings service only if market-supported but is committed to developing a transactional accounting system for the superhighway.

"That's going to be a lot bigger than a $30 billion TV advertising business," he said. "It's going to be about a lot of other kinds of transactional services that will grow from this."

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