FTC OKs Nielsen-Arbitron Deal, But With Strings Attached

PPM Must Remain Available to a Third Party for Eight Years

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The Federal Trade Commission has approved Nielsen's $1.3 billion acquisition of Arbitron on the condition that Arbitron make its Portable People Meter available to third parties for cross-platform measurement for the next eight years.

The agreement, announced late Friday following a nine-month review process, allows a cross-platform media-measurement project involving ESPN, Arbitron and ComScore (a Nielsen digital-measurement rival) to continue. It also would allow other third parties to license Arbitron's PPM and related software and data on similar terms over the next eight years, according to a person familiar with the matter, who also said Arbitron and ComScore would need to find an alternative to Arbitron's software and data after eight years.

Another third party could only come in to replace ComScore should it drop out of the cross-measurement program, the person added. ComScore, or that successor third party, could expand the program to other media companies besides ESPN.

Nielsen said it expects the deal to close by Sept. 30.

People familiar with the matter had for months said the cross-platform issue -- in which marketers, agencies and media seek to measure the combined effects of efforts in TV, radio, digital and other media -- was the biggest sticking point in FTC approval.

Arbitron's PPM is the only national panel, other than those Nielsen already controls, to provide key pieces of such measurement systems. With Nielsen having an effective monopoly on U.S. TV ratings and Arbitron having and effective monopoly on radio ratings, the combination might otherwise have allowed the combined company to have a monopoly on cross-platform measurement.

In a statement, Nielsen said the agreement effectively allows the year-old ESPN-ComScore program to continue. While other companies haven't moved to do so yet, competitors such as set-top box TV measurement firm Rentrak could ask for FTC approval to strike a similar arrangement, but only to replace ComScore.

Nielsen CEO David Calhoun said in a statement, "This is a highly acceptable outcome for us as it doesn't change the market landscape and allows us to proceed with the deal."

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