Media Powers Trying to Crack Ratings Code

Executives say new coalition is not a competitor to Nielsen.

Last Updated: September 10, 2009 @ 4:08 PM

Hoping to finally crack the seemingly elusive code of media measurement across platforms, a broad coalition representing 14 media companies, media buyers and advertising agencies is being formed, and details of the endeavor were unveiled on Thursday.

Calling themselves the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, the group said it will “work to explore and identify new methodologies and approaches to audience measurement” in two areas: television measurement through set-top-box data, and new methods for cross-platform media measurement.

Participants in the consortium include Time Warner, News Corp., Viacom, CBS Corp., the Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Discovery Communications, as well as MediaVest, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

Nielsen, which has a monopoly on television ratings in the U.S., is not one them.

But NBC Universal research chief Alan Wurtzel said that contrary to reports last month, “this is not designed to provide an alternative to Nielsen.” Clearly, he said, Nielsen “has a significant role” in the ratings game, but the notion that the goal of the coalition is to create a rival to Nielsen is misguided. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The goal is innovation and research, Wurtzel said.

“Set top box measurement is nascent — it’s the Wild West,” he said. “There are many companies out there offering set top box date — not just Nielsen.”

Nielsen, though, would be considered as an “applicant” by the CIMM board if the company chose to apply.

The executives declined to reveal just how much money was being spent on the consortium – but indicated the figure is in the “seven-figure range.”

Networks have stepped up their public complaints about Nielsen of late, frustrated by significant errors in measurement. Last month, Nielsen conceded it had improperly measured five NFL games; in June, the company admitted publishing bad numbers for ABC’s "World News."

"As an industry, we can’t afford not to do this,” NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker said in a statement. “Because if we can’t measure our audience accurately, we can’t sell it.”