NBC Universal, TW part of new coalition

The majors, media buyers and blue-chip advertisers have joined forces to fund research initiatives designed to find better ways to measure viewership across TV, computer and mobile screens.

The partners in the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement are in the process of hiring a managing director who will have day-to-day oversight of the research initiatives funded by the partners. At present, the coalition includes 14 firms, but execs involved in its creation said they will actively recruit more members from relevant constituencies with a stake in content ratings.

The plan is for the coalition, which is spearheaded by top research execs from the partner members, to solicit bids from research firms to come up with measurement solutions to specific problems identified by the coalition.

The showbiz partners include NBC Universal, News Corp., Time Warner, Viacom, CBS Corp., Disney and Discovery Communications, along with big spenders such as AT&T, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and ad giants WPP, Interpublic Group, Omnicom Media Group and Starcom MediaVest. The coalition has been in the works for several months (Daily Variety, Aug. 17).

“This is a big tent where measurement and research concerns of the entire industry can be identified and research developed to address them,” said Alan Wurtzel, NBC U prexy of research and media development, who was the prime mover in assembling the coalition. Each of the partners “have skin in the game,” or a vested interest in improving ratings and data as viewership splinters across multiple screens, he added.

The partners have made a multi-year commitment to the coalition and have ponied up at least seven figures in funding for the first year, execs said during a conference call on Thursday.

The first two projects that the coalition will put out for bid involve improving methodologies for gleaning more accurate info from cable and satellite set-top boxes, and the Holy Grail of media measurement, a way to measure viewership of programs across TV, online and mobile platforms.”

“This is seed money to fund research initiatives,” said Turner Broadcasting System chief research officer Jack Wakshlag. “The amount of money we will (ultimately) need will depend on the type and quality of initiatives” it pursues, he said. The results of all initiatives funded by the coalition will be made available to the general public, but the individual research firms will retain the right to develop them as commercial services. Otherwise, the coalition’s efforts might well run afoul of antitrust regulators.

“Our goal is to publish (the results) for the whole industry to see and not to set anything proprietary,” said CBS Corp. research chief David Poltrack.

Wurtzel and others stressed that the coalition is in no way looking to devise a ratings system to compete with the TV ratings supplied by Nielsen Media Research, which are the bread and butter of the TV biz.

But it’s also no secret that the coalition was formed in part to put pressure on Nielsen because of what many media execs see as the company’s slow reaction to the seismic shifts in TV viewing of the past few years.

Showbiz execs are looking to develop an omnibus “three screen” rating that would track viewership of TV content across the old-fashioned tube as well as through online on-demand services and mobile devices. Mobile viewing is poised to become a factor in the U.S. by next year, when local stations begin transmitting program packages tailored for viewing on cell phones and other devices.

Nielsen at present is not a member of the coalition. As much as execs stressed that the coalition was not an “anti-Nielsen” initiative, the absence of the primary ratings provider in the formation of this ambitious research venture is a clear sign of the message that the partners hoped to send with Thursday’s announcement. Execs said they would invite Nielsen to “apply” for membership.

Nielsen spokeswoman Susan Duffy said that the company “shares the same goals” outlined by the coalition partners.

“We look forward to working with them along with our clients in the industry to define the future of media measurement across more and more screens,” Duffy said.

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