Consortium to challenge Nielsen

Top US media companies and marketers have created a consortium to challenge the dominant force in TV audience measurement. Nielsen currently controls US audience measurement through the polling of 18,000 homes, where viewer habits are measured by clicks of a special remote control.

Media participants in the consortium – including NBC Universal, Time Warner, News Corp, Viacom, CBS, Discovery and Walt Disney – expect it to be operational by September. They have pulled in Procter & Gamble, AT&T, and Unilever. The involvement of such big names highlights how urgently advertisers feel the need for better information to justify ads that run across multiple media platforms. Media agencies GroupM, owned by WPP, and Starcom MediaVest are also joining.

Audience measurement is considered the lifeblood of the media industry. The $70bn spent on US TV advertising each year is allocated according to viewer numbers but the explosion of online viewing has made the measuring of total audiences across all media platforms more difficult.

"The most deficient thing is there's no single source measurement" Sam Armando, senior vice-president of audience analysis at Starcom Mediavest, told the Financial Times.

The consortium is expected to award contracts for measuring set-top box data and cross-platform viewers across TV and digital sources as early as the fourth quarter of this year. The explosion of online videos and the creation of initiatives such as Hulu and TV Everywhere have made improving measurement more urgent.

Nielsen measures the interaction of TV and internet video usage through a "convergence" panel of about 2,800 people, but these are not officially part of the national sample from which ratings are based. A full roll-out is expected by 2011.

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