Nielsen’s proposed $1.26 billion buy of Arbitron would allow it to measure audiences across numerous platforms–TV, radio, the online and mobile. But the fact that no other company offers that has it in fluid negotiations with the FTC, which has also been putting out feelers and questionnaires across the media biz as well lately. Beyond this latest news, Nielsen recently announced the review period has been extended through this month.
Now, according to a Bloomberg story, concession discussions center on a requirement for the combined company to license measurement technology to ComScore, in addition to researchers, television networks and other parties. A consent order could become public within the month. Under the proposal, ComScore would continue to have access to technology from Arbitron that it uses to measure audiences for ESPN across radio, television, PCs, smartphones and tablets.
The fate of Nielsen’s purchase of Arbitron also relies heavily on ESPN. The sports-media giant licenses software from Arbitron for a new project that enables it to tell how often viewers are watching the network over television, radio, PCs, smartphones and tablets. The license expires soon, and the ability of ESPN to squeeze a promise from Nielsen that it will be able to continue to license the software is important to the merger getting federal approval. ESPN Senior VP Artie Bulgrin has been speaking to the FTC about the licensed software, which it calls “Project Blueprint.” ESPN is also using the using the combined measurement software to track viewers who use both its cable channels and WatchESPN app.
The FTC investigators are concerned that the transaction could limit access to the audience measurement technology across platforms that Nielsen would control as a result of the merger, the Bloomberg report said. Under antitrust law, it can be illegal if a dominant firm that controls a tool or material considered “essential” to competing in a given market withholds it from competitors.
Nielsen controls about 80% of the TV ratings industry and Arbitron accounts for about 90% of radio measurement, which would give the combined firm a dominant position for both.
RBR-TVBR observation: While the situation is very much in flux, the talks are a positive sign for the acquisition. As we’ve said, the FTC must—and is—doing its due diligence here. Nielsen wants to offer advertisers a unified system of measuring audiences across multiple forms of media, making it easier for them to make multiplatform ad-buying decisions. There is no reason radio should not be a part of that mix. As well, TV execs, including CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves, have been pushing Nielsen to count viewers who watch TV shows on tablet computers and other mobile devices, so the industry wants what Nielsen is trying to accomplish—as long as it doesn’t raise rates on the individual services.