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Media firms, advertisers team up to develop new ways to measure TV viewing

The move to create the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement comes amid growing frustration with Nielsen's rating system.

September 11, 2009|Joe Flint

If you don't like the message, get a new messenger.

Worried that the number of people watching TV shows is not being reported accurately, 14 major media companies, advertisers and agencies are teaming up in an effort to develop new methods to measure how people watch television.

Among those participating in the venture are Time Warner Inc., Viacom Inc., CBS Corp., NBC Universal, Walt Disney Co., News Corp., Procter & Gamble Co., AT&T Inc., Unilever and advertising giant WPP Group.

"We all have an urgent need to evolve our methods of measurement," Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said in a statement.

WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell said, "It is critical for the various constituencies to agree on the priorities for the next generation of media measurement systems."

The move comes amid growing frustration with Nielsen Media Research, which has been measuring TV ratings since the medium entered the mainstream in the mid-1940s. This year Nielsen caught heat from the television industry when it acknowledged that an internal study revealed that some homes where the firm's TV meters were installed weren't using them properly.

There is also concern that Nielsen is not adapting quickly enough to how people watch TV. Consumers are watching more content on their computers and mobile devices, and are using digital video recorders to watch shows after they have aired.

Although Nielsen tracks all of this, clients would like to see the measurements simplified and streamlined.

Dubbing itself the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, the group said it was establishing a research fund to review a series of pilot studies with independent measurement firms about how to better analyze media consumption. The results could prod Nielsen to change its methodology.

"It is time to take our future into our own hands," Alan Wurtzel, NBC Universal's president of research, said in detailing the plan. "Our members all have skin in the game."

Advertisers spent about $70 billion in 2008 on TV alone, according to TNS Media Intelligence, a media research firm.

Although they are clearly not pleased with the current system, Wurtzel and other consortium participants went out of their way to say this was not a covert effort to replace Nielsen, as some have speculated.

"If we wanted to do something that is an alternative, that is doable," Wurtzel said.

David Poltrack, CBS' chief research officer, said the purpose of this organization was to "support innovative research," but that if anything was developed for commercial use, that would be done independently of the coalition.

Conspicuously missing, however, from the list of industries involved are new-media giants such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. Wurtzel said CIMM was "not designed to solve every measurement problem" but said he would welcome Google or other new-media companies to come in as potential partners because they already provided some form of media measurement.

A Nielsen spokeswoman said the ratings firm "shares all of the objectives" of the coalition and "has always worked closely with clients to bring innovation to the industry." The company said it looked forward to working with CIMM and "would like to hear more about its plans."


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