ESPN adds Nielsen rival

SRI grabs first cable deal

NEW YORK — Statistical Research Inc., which hopes to provide competition for Nielsen Media Research with its SMART system, said Wednesday that four additional companies have signed letters of intent for the system — including its first cable network, ESPN.

SRI had attracted the Big Four broadcast networks and a number of ad agencies. But its previous lack of support from cable seemed to lend credence to Nielsen’s argument that SMART’s main appeal was to the broadcast webs, which are unhappy with their shrinking audience shares, much of which is going to cable.

On Wednesday, cabler ESPN joined ad agencies Ammirati Puris Lintas, McCann-Erickson and Procter & Gamble in signing letters of intent “to discuss a new national TV ratings service based on the SMART (Systems for Measuring And Reporting Television) project.”

However, it’s not such a surprise that ESPN would sign on, because the sports network is owned by Disney’s ABC Inc.

Executives from CBS and NBC have indicated that their sister cable webs will soon also sign letters of intent to SRI. NBC owns CNBC, half of MSNBC and has equity stakes in many other cable programmers, such as A&E and Rainbow Programming. CBS owns and operates the Nashville Network and Country Music Television and owns half of Eye on People.

Nielsen executives have pointed out that SRI’s letter of intent does not necessarily guarantee financial support for SMART. According to SRI’s announcement, “The nonbinding letters of intent indicate the companies’ confidence in the SRI/SMART business plan and their interest in proceeding to contract discussions for establishing a new service.”

The Westfield, N.J.-based SRI is headed by president Gale Metzger.

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