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Competitive Media Reporting has moved one step closer to becoming a monopoly in the ad spending data business.

CMR last week signed a multiyear contract with the Interpublic Group of Cos., making it the exclusive supplier of competitive data to Interpublic agencies including McCann-Erickson USA, Lintas USA and Lowe & Partners/SMS.

The deal is a significant blow to Nielsen Media Research, which had been courting Interpublic as a potential client for its Monitor-Plus. The fledgling service has yet to attract a major ad agency client.

Nielsen executives had pinned their hopes on Interpublic because all the other major ad agencies are tied up in long-term contracts with CMR, a joint venture of Arbitron Co. and VNU.

"We are disappointed, but this doesn't mean the agency marketplace is locked up forever," said Kyra Koury, VP-director of Monitor-Plus. "The key to our capturing the agency marketplace is based on the expiration of other agency contracts for [CMR's] MediaWatch. Those agencies we are focusing on, like IPG, are ones whose contracts are expiring. There will be new ones expiring next year."

Ms. Koury noted Nielsen does do project work for many top agencies and has long-term Monitor-Plus contracts with five major advertisers, 13 cable TV networks and about 20 TV stations.

However, ad agencies comprise the major source of revenues for the $50 million competitive ad spending data business, where a major agency contract can run upwards of $1 million annually.

"This really marks a turnaround in the attitude toward CMR from the agency community," said CMR President Jeff Hale, who has concentrated on reshaping the company into a market-focused business since Arbitron and VNU formed their joint venture about two years ago.

Mr. Hale said the company has invested heavily in new technologies and software to develop a variety of new products.

"Before, we were separate, media-focused companies. A TV company. A radio company. A newspaper company. And basically, all we did was deliver books of data," he said. "We have restructured ourselves so that now we are one company that is focused on the advertising agency market."

In another blow to Nielsen, CMR last week formalized a working alliance with International Software Development, Chicago, a company that integrates Nielsen's TV ratings with CMR's TV ad spending data.

Previously, that kind of single-source data, vital to most advertisers' competitive media planning, was only available from Nielsen or third-party suppliers.

Mr. Hale said the relationship with International Software isn't a formal business venture but that the working alliance should make it easier for agencies and advertisers to combine the two databases without subscribing to Nielsen's Monitor-Plus. They will, however, have to continue paying for Nielsen's TV ratings.

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