NIELSEN CRITICS COLLAPSE AGAIN

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In the last few years, the roar has been deafening from marketers, ad agencies and the broadcast TV networks about their dissatisfaction with Nielsen Media Research. Nielsen has been so vilified that at one point last year the independent Media Ratings Council almost voted not to certify certain Nielsen data. So what can be said about an industry that decries Nielsen's monopoly position but then refuses to fund an alternative -- Statistical Research Inc.'s Smart TV? Clearly, nothing very complimentary.

There is something wrong with TV advertising today when marketers spend $60 billion annually buying time in which to place their messages while at the same time so many of the industry's experts worry that the standard upon which all this money is spent -- the ratings -- is problematic. Yet this proposed system from SRI was the perfect opportunity to get -- finally -- a competitor to Nielsen, even if Smart itself wasn't perfect. Marketers, agencies and networks are all responsible for the decision to call off Smart. There's enough blame here to go around.

No less an authority than Alan Wurtzel, president of NBC research and media development, sadly stated about the demise of Smart: "I don't see another entity challenging Nielsen in our lifetime." We hope he's wrong.

The new millennium will bring a new delivery system for TV -- digital signals through set-top boxes -- that could be ubiquitous in a decade. Other companies besides Nielsen, such as Media Metrix, are at work developing measurement methods for digital TV, and we suspect there will be more. And, again, we hope so.

The advertising community just has to make sure that at some point it embraces one or more of these competitors. If the industry won't put up (as in support and funding), then at least it should shut up and stop complaining about the

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