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Major Media Companies Form Measurement Initiative; 'Not An Attempt To Replace Nielsen'

Tired of waiting for the various audience measurement firms to provide seamless, cross-platform data covering consumers’ total media usage, a group of 14 companies representing all the major TV networks have joined with major advertising agencies and marketers to create the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM). Alan Wurtzel, NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) research president, introduced a conference call which also included Dave Poltrack, chief research officer, CBS (NYSE: CBS) Corporation and President, CBS VISION and Peter Seymour, EVP, Strategy & Research, Disney (NYSE: DIS) Media Networks. Although the executives all stressed that the formation of CIMM was not an attempt to create a rival to Nielsen, there’s still a great deal of skepticism about what sort of position it is taking towards the dominant audience measurement company.

Before taking questions in a conference call including representatives from the original members, Wurtzel made a point of dismissing earlier reports that the media companies were looking for a way to supplant Nielsen as the main currency for TV ratings. Wurtzel: “This is neither a trade or academic organization. We all have skin in the game. We want to get more granular TV measurement and a more innovation when it comes to getting data about online and mobile. There is one misperception we want to address: we are not looking to provide an alternative to Nielsen. Innovation can come from many places and Nielsen has a role to play.”

Seven figures to start: In terms of the basic goals, Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting, said that initially, the group has “seven figures” worth of funding and will get more as more members participate. He declined to say how much each individual member is putting up. CIMM’s first order of business will be looking at developing research methods for counting viewers via set-top boxes, said Peter Seymour, EVP, Strategy & Research for Disney Media Networks. After that, it will focus on online and mobile measurement. The group will be soliciting responses to requests for proposals from technology and research vendors to build that system. Before that, CIMM plans to hire an executive director and a managing director to handle the day-to-day work.

Nielsen questions continue: Despite the protesting of Wurtzel and other execs on the call about this not being intended as a direct challenge to Nielsen’s primacy, questions lingered about how the group would relate to what Nielsen does. For example, AdAge’s Andrew Hampp’s asked if Nielsen could join. Colleen Fahey Rush, EVP, Strategic Insights & Research, MTV Networks (NYSE: VIA), MTV, said that Nielsen is not currently a member, but Nielsen is free to respond to our RFPs. If they wish to join, they’ll be considered like any other prospective member. She added that even though WPP Group is a member, its’ TNS Media Intelligence unit, is not presently involved in CIMM.

The honor system: In terms of how the “seven figures” Wakshlag mentioned will be used, Poltrack said, “This is not a venture capital seed funding. This information will be available to all, even if they didn’t participate. However, it’s like public television. We need everyone to participate because we need the funding.”

Nielsen: We’re ready to work with CIMM: At least for now, Nielsen appears to be taking the media executives insistence that it’s not trying to displace the measurement firm at face value. “We’re looking forward to learning more about CIMM and we certainly share all of their objectives,” said Nielsen rep Gary Holmes, who was on the conference call. As for whether Nielsen would likely respond to an RFP from CIMM, Holmes indicated that the company would be interested.

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