Monitoring ads in real time

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Two companies are attempting to establish a foothold in the U.S. ad monitoring business dominated by Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, Nielsen Media Research and Video Monitoring Services of America.

Idioma, a small Israeli technology company, has just announced the launch of a global ad-retrieval system called AdHunter, which provides users with the ability to view broadcast spots from anywhere in the world immediately after they have aired. The geographical depth and speed of turnaround, Idioma executives claim, gives it an advantage over more-entrenched monitoring services.

AdHunter will collect information from media monitors worldwide that use Idioma's AdScanner products, said Aviram Ganor, the company's director of marketing. "It will make it available in real time. Someone in South Africa will clip a commercial and it will probably take a minute or two and then it will be available on the system, automatically."

AdScanner is an Idioma software program that digitizes video and audio signals on spots and creates a "fingerprint" to track them when they air. The AdScanner system is used in Canada, South Africa and Israel. AdHunter will pool AdScanner users around the world to create a central database of spots. Users will be charged subscription fees.

Another entrant is ShadowTV, a division of Digital Connection in New York, which offers the same type of digital tracking and retrieval services but only monitors 12 networks within the U.S. "ShadowTV makes television searchable in real time," said Jim Ellerbee, VP, ShadowTV. "We capture these signals, index, digitize, archive and stream them."

ShadowTV works with clients including Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, Japanese ad giant Dentsu and Johnson & Johnson. For J&J, primarily, "we monitor their ads, their brand usage in programming and on the news," said Mr. Ellerbee. ShadowTV, like Idioma, said it can turn a job around in real time.

Speed not always the issue

Rivals, however, said speed is not always the issue. "Anybody can get things in real time, the question is can you categorize, classify and edit what you really want to see," said David Peeler, president-CEO of CMR. "That is the challenge. You have to put it in a usable format."

CMR focuses almost exclusively on ad spending figures. It monitors and measures advertising on TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, the Internet and outdoor. It has not, until now, provided clips of spots. "We're just about ready to upgrade to video," Mr. Peeler said. "We used to send out more of a storyboard format, but we're about to upgrade it to full-motion video." CMR can deliver ads within three hours of their appearance, Mr. Peeler said.

Video Monitoring Services of America, which tracks and records advertising in 50 countries, sends tape and DVD copies of spots to customers. "We don't do it in real time, not yet," said Jack Dailey, a VMS senior account executive. VMS also does not provide information about spending, which AdHunter said it will do. Also, VMS monitors broadcasts "by hand," that is, they have people watching TV. Idioma tracks advertising electronically.

CMR also does its monitoring by hand. Idioma's Mr. Ganor asserts using humans to monitor advertising is antiquated and slow and that its fingerprinting technology is the future of the business.

Even VNU's Nielsen Media Research, which specializes in monitoring TV ratings and audience estimates, has entered the fray. It recently developed Nielsen Monitor-Plus to track advertisers' media spending and its effectiveness in reaching audiences. Monitor-Plus uses a program called Ad*Sentry, an Internet-based program that electronically delivers advertising to customers' desktops within two days of first airing.

Some media agency executives, however, feel that two days is too long. "Right now, it takes us at least a week to get this information," said Joe Abruzzo, exec VP-director of marketing and media research at WPP Group's Media Edge. "A system like [Idioma] could be a great help."

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