Mr. Metzger, president of Statistical Research Inc., convinced the major broadcast networks and a half-dozen of the largest ad agencies to sign a letter of intent for what is expected to be a $100 million national rollout of his prototype for a national TV rating system.
Other companies have tried to launch national TV ratings systems to compete with Nielsen -- AGB, Arbitron and R.D. Percy -- but failed.
As a chief consultant to the TV industry's Committee on Nationwide TV Audience Measurement, Mr. Metzger was deeply involved in assessing those efforts.
REAL WORLD LABORATORY
Ultimately, his "Principles" document became a real-world laboratory -- the Smart TV ratings lab in Philadelphia -- which now stands to become the first national Nielsen ratings competitor ever to be backed by a cross-section of the industry.
Key constituents, including major advertisers and cable TV network groups, have not signed letters of intent. Still, some industry observers expect him to eventually get the funds he needs to roll out the program.
As part of the Smart business plan, SRI's ratings clients will rule on important aspects of research specifications, editing rules and definitions, as well as the format and reporting of ratings data.
"Gale certainly has gotten as far as our AGB did and it looks like he may have the support he needs to go all the way," says Norman Hecht, president of Norman Hecht Research and former head of AGB's attempts to launch a U.S ratings service in the late 1980s.
"It's an enormous task," acknowledges Mr. Hecht, "because ratings services are more like public utilities than commercial enterprises. The stakes are high and the consequences are enormous for the TV industry, because you are publishing an overnight report card that, in effect, manufactures everybody's inventory."
That very capability has caused some side-liners -- particularly cable networks -- to reserve judgment on support for Smart.
Those who have worked closely with Mr. Metzger say his effort for Smart is really secondary to his most important accomplishment of getting the industry to think about the ratings business in an intelligent way.
Among other things, Mr. Metzger's SRI has developed the so-called Smart code, which is described as a universal programming code similar to the Universal Product Code enabling marketers to track their sales through all points of distribution.
Because the Smart codes are attached to the programs themselves, SRI says viewing of the programs -- and associated advertising -- can be measured regardless of the form of telecasting.
Nielsen claims the Smart codes are fallible and has developed its own system with multiple redundancies to prevent such failures. That in itself, says staunch Nielsen critic Nick Schiavone, senior VP-research at NBC, merits some lionizing for Mr. Metzger.
"Gale Metzger's real accomplishments haven't been technological," says Mr. Schiavone. "[His] greatest accomplishments have been philosophical and psychological. He has helped the industry come to terms with our extraordinary data needs and to find a simple, straightforward way of addressing them."
If this were all Mr. Metzger were to accomplish, many of his supporters say that would be enough to earn him a place in TV history. But for Mr. Metzger, it's not enough.
"We've learned a lot through the Smart laboratory, but this is not just a matter of speaking about theory. It's about putting things into practice," says Mr. Metzger. "And that work will never be finished, because TV is constantly changing."
Mr. Mandese is editor of Myers Reports.