Ratings measurement coalition formed

Fourteen companies join for new data system

The parent companies of the major broadcast networks, along with several media buying agencies and advertisers, announced Thursday the creation of a new TV ratings measurement research organization: The Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM).

The group includes the TV divisions of 14 companies (full list below) such as Time Warner, Disney, News Corp., NBC Universal and CBS Corp. making a multiyear commitment to develop new ratings-gathering techniques.

The ratings coalition has been rumored for weeks, and reports have portrayed the effort as a direct challenge to Nielsen Media Research -- the most utilized source of data by advertisers seeking to determine the popularity of TV content. But execs backing the CIMM emphasized the service isn't seeking to replace Nielsen.

"This announcement shouldn't be seen as an alternative to Nielsen," said Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group. "It's quite to the contrary; we expect Nielsen, along with other research entities, to be a part of the solution."

Indeed, sources say NBC is near a deal to re-sign with Nielsen, just as fellow CIMM partner Time Warner recently inked a new multiyear contract with the ratings company.

The CIMM intends to look for ways to measure TV ratings data across multiple platforms and make the results publicly available. One participating researcher compared the organization to PBS, with any research company permitted to contribute. The group plans to hire an independent managing director to oversee day-to-day operations.

"Nothing will be proprietary; the goal is to publish the research for the entire industry," said David Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS.

Each of the founding members of the CIMM has reportedly paid a $100,000 fee to help launch the effort, which has a "seven figure" budget. By comparison, Nielsen has poured $7.5 million over three years into its Council for Research Excellence, which includes many of the same members as the CIMM and has similar goals.

The group will initially fund a series of pilot studies conducted by independent measurement companies. One will seek to set a new standard for using cable and satellite set top-box data, and the other will explore new methods for cross-platform measurement. The CIMM is opening the doors for companies -- including Nielsen -- to submit proposals.

Ratings measurement is an expensive endeavor, and the CIMM first has the challenge of trying to harvest information that will be worthwhile and credible to advertisers. The task is especially tricky when the information is filtered through an outfit partly run by the networks, whose ad revenue would depend on the findings. An effort by TV networks and ad agencies to establish a ratings system in the 1990s, dubbed "Smart," failed because of the costs associated with collecting reliable information.

In a statement, Nielsen said it shares all of the objectives of the leaders of the CIMM. "We have always worked closely with clients, advertisers, marketers and others to bring innovation to the industry. Based on what is now known about CIMM and its mission, we look forward to working with them along with our clients and the industry to continue to define the future of media measurement across more screens."

While the CIMM isn't taking on Nielsen with a new syndicated ratings service, it certainly could serve as a prod to convince the veteran measurement company to deliver data in new ways. It also opens the door for other research firms to get a toehold in an arena monopolized by Nielsen.

"Twenty-first century media needs 21st century measurement techniques," said Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal. "Existing systems are incapable of accurately measuring the media habits of our audience across today's multiplicity of platforms. As an industry, we can't afford not to do this, because if we can't measure our audience accurately, we can't sell it."

Networks have been frustrated with declining ratings as viewership patterns have changed with DVRs, migration to cable and fans watching shows online. Moreover, networks have been looking for ways to cut costs. Reassurances of cooperation with Nielsen aside, some networks would doubtless prefer to use their own blend of ratings data -- if such an information stream ever became fully accepted by advertisers.

There are already a number of research firms exploring set-top box measurement and cross-platform research, including Nielsen, TNS Media Research, Rentrak, TRA, TiVo, Arbitron and IMMI. All could be bidders for CIMM's proposed research projects.

The rest of CIMM's members include Discovery and Viacom; advertisers Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Unilever; and ad buyers Interpublic, Starcom MediaVest, GroupM and Omnicom.

CIMM was announced by:

-- Jeff Bewkes, Chairman and CEO, Time Warner
-- George Bodenheimer, President of ESPN and ABC Sports, and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks
-- Nick Brien, President & CEO, Interpublic Group's Mediabrands
-- Chase Carey, Deputy Chairman, President and COO, News Corporation
-- Philippe Dauman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Viacom
-- Laura Desmond, CEO, Starcom MediaVest Group Worldwide
-- Dina Howell, Vice President, Global Media & Brand Operations, The Procter & Gamble Company
-- Laura Klauberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media, Unilever
-- Esther Lee, Senior Vice President, Brand Marketing and Advertising, AT&T
-- Sir Martin Sorrell, Group Chief Executive, WPP, holding company for GroupM
-- Anne Sweeney, President, Disney-ABC Television Group and co-chair, Disney Media Networks
-- Nancy Tellem, President, CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group
-- Page Thompson, CEO, North America, Omnicom Media Group
-- David M. Zaslav, President and CEO, Discovery Communications
-- Jeff Zucker, President and CEO, NBC Universal

-- With additional reporting by Katy Bachman, Mediaweek

Nielsen is the parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.