The Television Bureau of Advertising is setting up a committee within the next 30 days to meet with Nielsen Media Research to discuss ideas for continuous measurement.
Furthermore, Nielsen itself within the next month plans on issuing an industrywide report on the subject, including cost options to institute varying forms of continuous measurement.
"There is a tremendous momentum to move on this issue," said TVB Chairman Andrew Fisher, who is also chairman of the ABC affiliate board and exec VP of Cox Broadcasting's Affiliate TV Group.
Nielsen's report will partly be in response to a detailed proposal sent to Nielsen recently by the American Association of Advertising Agencies. The proposal was the result of a collaboration of three Four A's committees: Media Research; Local TV and Radio; and Media Policy.
The proposal followed up on a decision announced last fall by the Four A's to ask Nielsen to institute continuous measurement. With the explosion of contests and program stunts run by TV stations during sweeps periods to hype ratings, agencies want some form of continuous measurement so they can get a more accurate picture of ratings in a market.
Currently, sweeps ratings are used to set local TV ad rates in most markets.
In its proposal to Nielsen, the Four A's listed three elements it wanted as a starting point for a continuous measurement system.
First, it asked for installation of people meters in the top four markets-New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. Currently, people meters are only used in Nielsen's national TV sample, not for numbers used to determine local ratings.
The people meter issue is a contentious one for stations. "We'd love to install people meters locally-and we've proposed the idea before-but the stations in general have been very hostile to the idea," said Jack Loftus, Nielsen VP-communications.
Indeed, Mr. Fisher, speaking on behalf of Cox only, said, "I'm very negative about putting people meters in local markets. They're a lightning rod for discontent. It's not the concept I'm against, but there are just too many questions about this current Nielsen people meter and [whether] the data derived from it are flawed or not."
Countered Steve Sternberg, senior partner-broadcast research at BJK&E Media, New York, "It may be a flawed device, but it's far superior to diaries."
For markets No. 5 to No. 100, the Four A's has proposed measurement by diaries every week of the year; that Nielsen increase the set-metered markets, now at 37, by at least three markets a year; that household data be reported weekly but demographics in four-week averages; and that samples be expanded so current thresholds for sample errors are not increased.
For markets No. 101 to No. 211, the Four A's asks that viewing be measured during alternating 26-week periods. Reportable data and sample standards would be the same as in markets No. 5 to No. 100.
In the interim, the Four A's proposed Nielsen institute a quick fix: Measure viewing in all 211 markets on an alternating 26 week basis. Half the markets would be measured in odd-numbered weeks, half in even-numbered weeks.
A network executive said one cost-effective compromise would be to get the top 50 markets set-metered, then institute a rolling diary system for the rest of the markets.
Other proposals include adding a few weeks of measurement to both the beginning and ending of the sweeps periods, and rolling out the October and January measurement periods, now done in some markets, nationwide.
"Radio instituted a 52-week measurement system at low incremental cost to that industry," Mr. Fisher said.
"I don't know why we can't get the same for TV," he added.