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Big media and marketers look to team on new ratings measurement system

August 13, 2009 |  5:41 pm

Several major media conglomerates and advertisers are in discussions to create a partnership that would try to find new ways to measure consumption of both television and digital content.

According to the Financial Times, media giants NBC Universal, Time Warner, News Corp., CBS, Walt Disney and Discovery Communications are working with major advertisers Procter & Gamble and AT&T on the effort. The consortium, the story says, will reward "contracts for measuring set-top box data and cross-platform viewers across TV and digital sources."

While the group, in the early stages of formation, could ultimately create a system to challenge Nielsen, it may also end up building a service that Nielsen could use or acquire. Whether all these companies will ultimately stay involved in this venture remains to be seen, a person familiar with the plans told Company Town.

Nielsen has always caught heat from programmers and advertisers over the quality of its ratings service. But these days the complaints have gotten much louder, especially after Nielsen acknowledged this year that a study it conducted showed compliance issues involving the homes where it places measuring devices and that could mean its numbers were a little off.

In May when Company Town asked Disney/ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney about Nielsen, she expressed frustration with Nielsen, asking "what the heck is going on?" Fox Networks Group CEO Tony Vinciquerra has also been vocal in criticizing Nielsen.

This is not the first time the TV industry has looked to build or support an alternative to Nielsen. In the late 1980s, British research company AGB tried unsuccessfully to challenge Nielsen. In 1994, The New York Times reported on how ABC, NBC and CBS were going to spend millions underwriting research to find an alternative system to the ratings giant. Yes, I've been covering this way too long.

While there is consensus in the media and marketing world that ratings can always be improved, a system that counts networks and advertisers as its owners or creators could also face its own credibility problems. 

-- Joe Flint

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