Media groups plan TV audience measurement coup


The Financial Times reports top media companies and marketers are working on their own consortium to break the grip of the dominant force in the TV audience measurement business–Nielsen. Media participants including networks owned by NBC Universal, Time Warner, News Corp, Viacom, CBS, Discovery and Disney are frustrated by the glacial pace of development in the critical business of counting viewers in the digital age. They expect to have the consortium operational by next month and have pulled in advertisers Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Unilever. Nielsen tells RBR/TVBR it is “not commenting on something that hasn’t been announced yet.”

The involvement of such big names highlights how urgently advertisers feel the need for better information to justify their returns on investments from ads that run across multiple media platforms.

GroupM  and Starcom MediaVest are also joining the consortium.

The move could be a big blow to Nielsen, which controls the measurement of US TV audiences through the polling of some 18,000 homes where viewer habits are measured by clicks of a special remote control.

TV audience measurement is considered the lifeblood of the media industry. The $70bn spent on US TV advertising a year is allocated according to viewer numbers, and thus accuracy in assessing these is crucial. The explosion of online video viewing has made the measuring of audiences across TV, the internet and mobile devices more difficult.

“The most deficient thing is there’s no single source measurement (for television and digital video),” Sam Armando, SVP/audience analysis at Starcom MediaVest, told the FT, confirming the establishment of the new group. Starcom’s clients include P&G.

“The thing is not let’s go out to replace Nielsen,” Armando said. But, he added: “It’s not a leap of faith to think that another [measurement company] can come in and do both.”

People briefed on the plans say the consortium is expected to award new contracts for measuring television set-top box data and cross-platform measurement of viewers across TV and digital sources as early as Q4.

The explosion of viewers of online videos and the creation of media sector- wide online video initiatives such as Hulu and TV Everywhere have made improving audience measurement even more urgent.

Although Nielsen measures usage individually on the internet, mobile devices and television, it has been testing the measurement of viewers across internet and television.

A system to tie in viewership from computers and TV through the TV Everywhere program is not expected to be fully deployed until 2011.