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A year ago, the big TV networks were airing their grievances about Nielsen Media Research's national TV ratings service. Nielsen, the only provider of this vital audience data, was not cutting it, in their view.

The solution, as the networks see it, is to help create, and then support, a new national audience measurement service that would offer better data and give Nielsen a competitive kick in the pants to improve its own offerings.

Our reaction then, as it is now, is that all this is talk until the other side of the network TV marketplace-the agencies and advertisers that spend billions on network ads-also see benefit from a new service. That makes last week's news that Procter & Gamble Co., AT&T Corp. and General Motors Corp. are financially backing the startup efforts for Statistical Research Inc.'s new TV service a big, big step forward.

SRI's Smart-TV service is still in test, available only in 500 homes in Philadelphia, and thus far is financed chiefly by ABC, CBS and NBC. A national rollout would cost an estimated $75 million.

Support from a few big advertisers, together with interest from a growing list of national ad agencies, should attract attention to the Smart-TV idea in the wider national advertiser community. That means Smart-TV should get the serious scrutiny it deserves from advertisers which now must regard it as a potentially viable ratings source.

We expect that that questioning will be thorough and pointed, as advertisers seek to determine how a ratings plan so ardently pushed by the sellers of advertising will also work to the benefit of buyers.

Advertisers have been down this road before with other attempts to launch services to compete with Nielsen. Smart-TV looks like a serious idea, but it still has a lot of selling to do with advertisers that justifiably will want to know what's in it for them.

When the academy Award nominations were announced earlier this month, it was independents' day in Hollywood. This week, independent publishers have reason to cheer Advertising Age's selection of Saveur as 1996 Magazine of the Year.

The glossy food title is a product of Meigher Communications, a tiny company packed with big talent.

Saveur's growth in a crowded category proves that success can still come from great ideas, not just deep pockets, and that magazines can be built from the reader up. Saveur is, in fact, the first Ad Age Magazine of the Year selection ever from a small publishing group. Launch of the Year for '96 Fast Company also comes from a smaller publisher, as does online honoree Salon.

Also honored as a best magazine for '96 is Newsweek, the sole occupant of the Washington Post Co.'s magazine division. It has defied conventional wisdom that newsweeklies-and stand-alone titles-are anachronisms.

That's not to knock the industry's big guns. The biggest, Time Inc., appears on the list courtesy of Entertainment Weekly, and two Time Inc. editors were named the year's best. Meredith Corp.'s Better Homes & Gardens and K-III Magazine's Seventeen earned spots by leveraging the power of mature brands to assert category leadership.

Looked at as an indicator, then, of the strength and diversity of magazines, this year's list gives all publishers-from the smallest entrepreneur to the largest global powerhouse-reason to cheer.

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