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Nielsen rival targets cable

Cablers wants more say in SMART system

NEW YORK — Now that Statistical Research Inc. has garnered support from the Big Four networks to develop its competitor to Nielsen’s national rating systems, SMART, SRI needs to sign up the cable networks.

Last Friday, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC signed a letter of intent to collectively provide SRI $50 million to $60 million in funding. SRI president Gale Metzger said his SMART audience measurement system needs about $100 million in total for development.

Though none of the cable networks have signed on yet, the announcement that SRI had signed up the Big Four nets and five ad agencies seemed to affect Nielsen Media Research’s stock price Monday. Nielsen’s shares were down 10.6% to close at $3.69 in extremely heavy trading.

While none of the major cable programmers would definitively commit to backing SRI’s SMART service, Metzger predicted Time Warner’s cable networks would have “the critical mass” necessary to fund the project.

MTV Networks head of research Betsy Frank said her company is evaluating SRI’s presentation to Viacom, but committing to SMART was not high on her list of priorities.

“We’re evaluating it,” said Tim Brooks, senior VP of research for USA Networks. “It’s important that they demonstrate that it’s fair to all parties.”

Cable network sources said they had two main issues with SMART. The first is that SRI has not yet come up with a way to measure the cable television universe. The second is they want more say over the company’s activities than they currently have over Nielsen’s decision-making.

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