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Nielsen's deal with ABC on iPad application: The referee joins the game

September 17, 2010 | 12:35 pm

MYGENERATION

Nielsen, the company that the broadcast and cable channels pay to provide ratings for their programs, is getting into a side business to help the networks promote their shows.

In a deal announced Thursday, Nielsen is teaming up with Walt Disney Co.'s ABC to create an application for Apple's iPad for the network's new drama "My Generation," which premieres next Thursday at 10 p.m.

Here's how it works. A person watching "My Generation," a drama about a group of high school pals 10 years after graduation, turns on the application during the show. The iPad then gets fed material about the show, which could include a poll about a particular plot point, additional content or social network features. The application will also be able to be used as a marketing device for advertisers in "My Generation" as well. ABC is not getting any data on the users, although Apple will tell the company how many times the application is downloaded.

The "My Generation" application is, of course, just the latest technological twist aimed at generating greater viewer interest and making people feel more involved in the shows they watch.

What makes this interesting, though, is Nielsen's involvement. Nielsen is basically the referee of the television business. Like a referee, the company calls ratings as it measures them in a neutral fashion.

Now the referee is, in a sense, setting up another operation to help teams promote their favorite players. 

A Nielsen spokeswoman stressed its Media-Sync Platform is "not a research product and is completely separate from our ratings service." 

ABC's deal with Nielsen is by no means exclusive. Nielsen said it had contacted other networks and gave them a heads-up and there were no issues. Company Town contacted three other networks; two seemed less than thrilled with the Nielsen-ABC deal and the third was unaware. Come early next year, the platform will be available to all Nielsen clients.

Is this a road Nielsen should be going down? The company's reputation is based on the perception that its sole interest is in providing accurate ratings for the industry and stay neutral on what the numbers mean. Nielsen usually goes out of its way not to comment on ratings and in fact made some waves earlier this year when one executive did offer an opinion on World Cup ratings.

In that case, Stephen Master, a vice president at Nielsen, was quoted calling the World Cup ratings "phenomenal." That may not seem like a big deal, but what if he said the ratings were really bad? Everyone in the industry would be screaming that Nielsen has no place offering an opinion -- especially a negative one -- on the ratings and that its job is to leave the judging to others.

Now it wants to help networks hype shows (and make a buck in the process). It seems like it could be the beginning of a slippery slope. Perhaps, just as Nielsen doesn't want to offer opinions on ratings, it should also leave the promotion and marketing of shows to others as well.

-- Joe Flint

Photo:  "My Generation." Credit: ABC.

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