MISSING VOICE IN NIELSEN TIFF;FALLING APPLE

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The question of media research is much in the news again. The broadcast networks, led by NBC and Fox, are pummeling Nielsen Media Research over TV ratings. Less noisily, Procter & Gamble Co., seeking more from print media research, is gearing up for a new study to determine how print advertising moves products. It hopes to be able to justify shifting more bucks out of television, where it feels costs are getting out of line.

For the broadcast TV networks, it's a renewal of their periodic call for better audience ratings. NBC said it publicly-it wants to break the Nielsen Media Research monopoly on TV ratings, and is trying to get Statistical Research Inc. to offer an alternative service. The other networks allowed as how that was a good idea. The rap on Nielsen is that it's not responsive to complaints of anomalies in its reporting. Nielsen defends its record, but the networks, meanwhile, already are working with SRI on improving the system to more accurately reflect children and young adults in the TV audience.

While many ad agencies see merit in having a Nielsen alternative, they and advertisers are somewhat cool to any new system developed largely by the sellers of TV time, and that's understandable. While you'd think advertisers would be interested in super-accurate TV audience measurements, the networks feel Nielsen is under-counting and the discovery of more eyeballs would certainly lead the networks to ask for higher rates.

There have been rivals to Nielsen's TV ratings service in the past but they eventually failed for lack of support from the ad community (although the short-lived competition did force Nielsen into some changes in methodology).

If the industry eventually is to see better audience research and measurements, media company pressure alone isn't likely to get the job done. Some of the impetus will have to come from the advertiser community, as P&G is doing in print. Until that happens, and advertisers also see something to gain from shaking up the status quo, don't expect SRI to be bankrolled as a full-fledged competitor to Nielsen in the TV ratings business.

Watching apple Computer drift deeper and deeper into disarray hurts. It's been too wonderful a business story (and a marketing story) to see it unravel before our eyes. Yet it's hard to be encouraged.

The litany of management miscues at Apple has been analyzed to death. Bad decisions, arrogance, missed merger opportunities, poor demand forecast-ing, and so on. Late last month Apple froze most research spending-in an industry where technological advances can be critical in the marketplace-while managers wrestled with restructuring and new strategies. The share price stumbled further.

If savvy management is not Apple's strength today, it still has the Apple brand, even now a high-value asset around the globe, and a core of dedicated and loyal customers. Brand marketing didn't fail Apple, bad management did.

Companies can come and go. But the brands can live on, if nourished once again by smart decision-making and careful stewardship. American Motors Corp. is gone, but the Jeep brand is bigger and more powerful than ever. Apple may or may not remain independent, but someone will succeed again with that valued brand.

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