Reuters may become TV ratings rival to Nielsen

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Reuters is in talks with TV networks and ad agencies about competing with Nielsen Media Research in measuring and providing data about viewing. The talks have been characterized by one executive familiar with them as "preliminary and exploratory."

NIELSEN UNDER SIEGE

Reuters' interest comes as Nielsen is under siege by the traditional TV networks and a number of agencies that have questioned some of Nielsen's methodology.

Separately, the American Association of Advertising Agencies currently is working on a project to develop, for the first time, methodological standards for audience measurement.

The Reuters talks have been led by Barry Drayson, president-CEO of Reuters Marketing Information, and Christine Muller, VP-content marketing of the unit. Neither executive would comment. Nielsen executives also declined to comment.

Reuters Marketing Information is a division of Reuters America, whose parent company is U.K.-based Reuters Holdings.

$5 BIL COMPANY

"Reuters is a $5 billion company," said another executive familiar with the discussions. "It could quickly become a serious competitor to Nielsen, especially if it hooks up with SRI."

Research company Statistical Research Inc. is now developing the Smart-TV initiative for measuring TV audiences. Though 10 agencies and three major advertisers are participating in the Smart program, it's primarily funded by ABC, CBS and NBC, which has made some agencies nervous.

EASING TREPIDATION

"If Reuters somehow partnered with SRI, I think that would take the edge off the agencies' trepidation about the networks' heavy involvement with developing Smart," said the second executive.

It is not known if Reuters and SRI have had discussions. SRI President Gale Metzger was traveling and unavailable for comment.

"Reuters is very eager to get into the media database business," said the first executive.

Reuters Marketing Information is a relatively new division; it has two products under its wing: AdValue Media Technology and AIM 21. AdValue is an order processing and billing system used primarily by agencies and TV station reps; AIM 21 is information management software used by Colgate-Palmolive Co. and other advertisers, and agencies, to manage databases.

4A'S LOOKS AT STANDARDS

As the debate between Nielsen and Smart has heated up, two Four A's committees have begun fact-finding on eventually issuing standards for measurement, according to a number of the executives on the committees.

"We're talking to everyone, including the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, about this measurement issue," said one executive.

"This is an effort to sort all the problems out in a systematic way," said another. "I don't know if it's quite correct to say we'll come up with standards per se. We're looking to say, `This is the common ground and this is how such and such should be measured.' "

Copyright March 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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