Combined with the recent signing of seven ad agencies, SRI "has such momentum going on this I think we'll see an announcement by summer to roll out a national TV competitor to Nielsen [Media Research]," said a top executive close to SRI.
Gale Metzger, president of SRI, declined comment, as did the three marketers.
To date, SMART-TV is in a test phase, available in only 500 homes
"We have to move on this relatively soon to show real commitment and quiet the skeptics," the executive close to SRI said.
The signing of P&G, GM and AT&T will hopefully change the minds of agency executives who have been concerned about the level of advertiser support for the Nielsen competitor, the executive added.
MAJOR FUNDING FROM NETWORKS
SMART-TV has primarily been funded by ABC, CBS and NBC, which have committed a total $30 million to the project this year.
A national rollout of the ratings system would cost about $75 million, according to network insiders, who would pick up most of that tab.
The fourth major broadcast network, Fox, "basically . . . has said they'll be onboard if SRI commits to a rollout," another network executive said, adding that Mr. Metzger "is out now talking to the cable networks."
One major hurdle the project faces, executives said, is that SMART-TV is perceived by many in the agency community as a stalking horse for Nielsen.
"SMART's primarily been a network thing, and the perception out there is that they don't really want another service but want Nielsen to be more responsive," said one of the executives.
"But I think we're beginning to reach a critical mass of interest, from agencies and advertisers, that if SRI moves forward with a national rollout there will be support from Madison Avenue for the service," the executive said.
The networks in recent years have objected to Nielsen's methodologies, claiming they result in skewed results.
One agency research director, however, warned that SRI shouldn't move too quickly.
`TOO EARLY TO SAY'
"SMART was really birthed by the networks, and those of us on the buying side want to really make sure it delivers before we support it," the research director said. "And, to be frank, it's too early to say it will deliver."
A top media executive at another major agency, though not in the research department, said he's already convinced that SMART can deliver.
"Just take what they've already discovered about kids," he said. "Nielsen says lots of kids have disappeared from TV viewing. SMART's found that what a lot of them do is go to a friend's house to watch."
SRI still has to be careful to avoid the fate of other would-be Nielsen ratings competitors, such as AGB. That British import only had the support of CBS, and folded its U.S. operations after a brief time.
ALL NETWORKS MUST SUPPORT
"We're a lot smarter now," said an executive from one of the TV networks. "SMART won't be rolled out unless all of the broadcast networks are in and the system has the support of Madison Avenue."