We respect Nielsen, now owned by the Netherlands' VNU. Nielsen has been counting viewers since the early days of TV, and its reports long ago became the standard for measuring audiences. But even Nielsen has its flaws. Are people as truthful in their Nielsen diaries as they are in their private diaries? Or, better said, why is Nielsen still basing some of its data on hand-written diaries when technology now offers more accurate alternatives?
Beating up on Nielsen is old sport at agencies and networks. But let's hope complainers consider the alternative. Still think of QVC as the place to buy schlock jewelry? Think again. Working with Comcast, a force in cable TV system ownership (and QVC's majority owner), QVC is developing TargetTV, which will measure audiences using digital set-top boxes. There are flaws in its scheme, and a fair amount of skepticism in the marketplace, as Ad Age reported last Monday. But don't dismiss the idea.
TV is going to change this decade. One way or another, interactive TV will emerge, whether through cable companies, TiVo, a marriage of TV and Internet or some ideas yet to be determined. It is in the ad industry's interest to encourage innovative thinking in measurement from new players. QVC's ideas deserve a careful hearing from advertisers, agencies and networks. Nielsen, too, can benefit from getting some extra incentive to innovate. That incentive is called competition. Nielsen needs to feel some heat.