Fox Network getting Smart with Big Three

NEW YORK — The Fox Network has joined its Big Three brethren as a client of Statistical Research Inc.’s Smart project, which is competing with Nielsen to come up with easier and cheaper ways to find out who’s watching television.

“The industry faces no greater challenge over the next few years than getting accurate audience measurement,” particularly in the light of dozens of new cable networks and satellite distributors that keep cropping up all over the TV landscape, said Giles Lundberg, senior VP of research and marketing for Fox.

Jack Loftus, VP of communications for Nielsen Media Research, said Nielsen is not sacrificing any sleep over its Smart competition — at least not yet.

“Smart has yet to produce a single program rating since it started 3-1/2 years ago,” Loftus said. A full-fledged competitor to Nielsen, he continued, would have to lay out between $100 million and $120 million to create a nationwide rating service, and then take on additional expenses of about $80 million a year to keep it up and running.

Sources said Smart’s clients, which, in addition to the four broadcast networks, encompass 14 advertisers and ad agencies including AT&T, BBDO, Leo Burnett, General Motors, P&G, Bristol-Myers and Y&R, are funding Smart to the tune of about $30 million.

Almost all of the money comes out of the networks’ coffers, and each of the four webs pays about $2 million to $3 million a year in ongoing funding, the sources said. By contrast, according to one source, Smart’s ad clients cough up only about $30,000 or so a year, the equivalent of a service fee.

Gale Metzger, president of SRI (Statistical Research Inc.), said Smart’s “short-term goal is to manufacture a small, easy, friendly metering device that would allow our installers to increase the sample size nationwide,” well beyond Nielsen’s current 5,000-household universe.

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