NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The media and marketing business desperately needs a cross-platform measurement tool, and a gang of major players got together last week and let it be known that they're going to get one -- with or without Nielsen, the longtime leader in tracking TV.
Fourteen of Nielsen's biggest clients -- Walt Disney, Procter & Gamble, Starcom MediaVest Group, WPP, Time Warner, NBC Universal and News Corp. among them -- are assembling to create the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, a seven-figure initiative designed to create a measurement that would allow the comparison of advertising performance across different channels. Not only do marketers feel that ratings are an antiquated means of quantifying the impact of advertising, but they also blame the lack of a cross-media metric for having stymied the development of the integrated marketing efforts that most favor today.
For these heavyweights to take matters into their own hands seems like a no-confidence vote in Nielsen, the world's largest measurement company and the metrics standard bearer in TV, which still attracts the lions share of marketer's media dollars. Still, some of the comments from the parties involved seemed to suggest that perhaps this was more about pressuring Nielsen to get it done, than replacing Nielsen as a standard -- they even talked about this being a panel-based tool, which, of course, is Nielsen's strength.
"It's definitely not an anti-Nielsen thing," said P&G spokeswoman Martha Depenbrock of the company's involvement. "Everybody knows we need a good measurement of cross-platform media, and we currently don't have that. So as an industry it makes sense to go after this together." P&G would like to see a single-source consumer panel that could track media preferences and purchase impacts across multiple media.
Patti Wakeling, North American media-insights team lead for Unilever, also said the coalition isn't meant as a slap at Nielsen, which she said has been welcomed to participate in the RFP. "Partnering with our industry peers will enable Unilever to develop innovative cross-media-channel research we wouldn't have been able to do on our own. ... There's been a lot of activity [in set-top box data] and trying to find the best way to measure [it] is something we're still trying to understand," she said.
Other coalition members issued similarly diplomatic responses. "We have all these major companies with, in many cases, disparate interests, coming together to work on something and offer innovation in an area that everyone believes is important. And hopefully it's the first step towards some real innovation," said Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, president of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna. She also was quick to note the coalition was focused on first filling a void, rather than replacing existing metrics. "Our first two projects are around set-top box data and cross-platform measurement and neither one really exists right now. So it's not about shortcomings, we need to create them."
If there's good news from Nielsen's point of view -- apart from these public reassurances -- it's that the coalition as it stands looks pretty TV-centric. There are no pure-play web portals or cable companies, no web video distributors and no mobile companies. That either puts Nielsen in pole position, as the leading supplier in the market, or could even be the initiative's undoing.
The absence of these other important players had a lot to do with key coalition players believing that the group already represents a lot of different goals. Having companies who only distribute on one platform participate in a cross-media consortium would just delay the progress, said one executive. But outsiders wondered whether there are already too many conflicting interests for the group to be successful.
"They all have different motivations," one executive said of CIMM's current lineup. "My suspicion is, when push comes to shove, it's going to be hard to get them to agree on anything."
"Any push to further methodology and introduce other players is a good thing for the industry," said Greg Kahn, senior VP-strategic insights at Optimedia, a media agency not formally involved with the coalition. "But oftentimes when there are coalitions or committees of different factions that don't have a similar goal, it can slow down the efforts of innovation. It's important that we move quickly in this arena. I strongly feel [Nielsen's] C3 is an antiquated metric to be evaluating currency."
The Interactive Advertising Bureau, which is establishing its own standardized web methodology, is one group interested in working with the coalition. "Since CIMM's media members are all IAB members, and its other constituents [are] our customers and collaborators, we'd like to encourage the group to work with us to coalesce around consistent, core metrics for online audience measurement, because we won't get cross-platform right until we reach agreement on how the individual platforms themselves are measured," said Sherrill Mane, the IAB's senior VP-industry services.
Some in the industry do wonder about the motivations of CIMM's participants. One executive suggested the members set out to use the coalition as a "negotiation tactic" when it came time to re-up its contracts with Nielsen and other measurement companies, all of which will be required to participate in a request-for-proposal process to have their data used in the coalition. Most notably, NBC Universal's seven-year contract with Nielsen expires in 2010, although it's been reported that the companies are negotiating a new five-year contract.
CIMM's initial investment -- estimated at $1.4 million, or $100,000 per member company -- is significantly smaller than similar research initiatives. Most notably the Council for Research Excellence, which shares CIMM's goals to quantify cross-platform media consumption, has accumulated $7.5 million in funding from Nielsen over three years. But Nielsen has had its share of big failures in advancing its expensive efforts, most notably Project Apollo, a joint effort of Nielsen and Arbitron. The initiative failed after a combined investment of $100 million or more due to poor buy-in from clients.
The CIMM formation also comes as Nielsen is prepping its first Nielsen Fusion product, which will add internet video consumption to its current sample of household TV viewers.
"A lot of the stuff they talk about, Nielsen could be doing tomorrow," said one executive familiar with the discussions around this issue. "But they're the ones that hold it back because they're afraid of the answer."
In CIMM's favor, getting media, agencies and at least some clients across multiple industries together at the outset of an RFP could help sort out the competing technologies, pick a winner and provide enough critical mass from clients to justify the huge investment needed to pay for the large consumer panels needed to make cross-platform media measurement work well.
"We need insights we can use that are tangible and reliable," said Artie Bulgrin, ESPN's senior VP-research and analytics. "The industry lacks a robust, reliable and accurate measurement system for cross-media usage -- a source we can all use to know how many Americans use both TV and internet, when they do and for how long. Or how many American on a daily basis use TV, internet and mobile devices. Or how many Americans use their mobile devices exclusively for web access (no PC). So step one is we need fundamental information on consumer behavior."
Said Alan Wurtzel, chief research officer of NBC Universal and temporary chair of the CIMM, "CIMM's work is very simple -- to foster granular, accurate and consistent internet measurement, TV measurement and, down the road, better mobile measurement."
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Contributing: Abbey Klaassen, Jack Neff, Michael Bush