Time to stand up and start counting

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The unrelenting wave of circulation scandals and tempest-turned-political-football over people meters exacerbates the measurement crisis we've cited before: There are cracks in the foundation. We propose a constructive solution: Let's see advertisers finance a comprehensive study of media measurement to identify problems and set priorities for where they must demand change.

The buck stops with marketers. It's their money, or more precisely the shareholders' money. Marketers need accurate, rich and relevant data to know how best to spend the money, and media auditing to insure it's properly spent.

Two Tribune Co. dailies (Newsday, Hoy) and Hollinger's Chicago Sun-Times admitted they issued bogus numbers overstating circulation. Who knows whether the problem in newspapers is more widespread.

Advertisers, meanwhile, are caught in the middle of the battle over accuracy of Nielsen local people meters. We hope and believe people meters are more accurate than the old paper diaries. But we see a bigger point: Media buyers and sellers both have issues with Nielsen data, and there's evidence suggesting the U.S. lags other markets in TV ratings research.

It's time for an industry audit to analyze what's right and wrong with measurement of media audience and spending, reviewing key sources from Audit Bureau of Circulations to MRI, from Arbitron to Nielsen, from NetRatings to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. It's not about pointing fingers. It's about getting advertisers the best data to make informed decisions.

We'd like to believe all constituencies want the best data. But it starts with advertisers. It's your money, and it's in your interest to pool some of it for a benchmarking study on media metrics. We bet the results will be illuminating and are counting on that to drive change that will ensure the world's biggest advertising market is supported by the most intelligent media research.

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