Updated: Marketers, Media, Agencies Form Coalition

NEW YORK  Unsatisfied with how media audiences are being measured in a multi-screen age, 14 of the nation’s largest media companies, agencies and advertisers today launched the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement.

The new group, whose members have made a multi-year commitment to the new consortium, intends to initiate, fund and evaluate a series of research studies focusing on set-top-box measurement and multiplatform TV measurement. Two requests for proposals, open to all research firms, are in the works for the fourth quarter.

Though the members would not divulge financing, CIMM likely has several million dollars to fund the research and hire an independent managing director to oversee day-to-day operations.

“We have enough to begin and a commitment to do more when the time comes,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting.

Founding members of CIMM are: Time Warner, Disney-ABC Television Group and Disney Media Networks, Interpublic’s Mediabrands, News Corp., Viacom, Starcom MediaVest, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, AT&T, WPP (GroupM), CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, Omnicom Media Group, Discovery Communications and NBC Universal.

News of the coalition first broke in mid-August, prompting speculation that the TV industry was organizing to take on Nielsen. That couldn’t be further from the truth, the participants emphasized during a conference call Thursday afternoon.

“This is a research-oriented organization to bring together the three major constituencies of the industry to foster innovation in measurement,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research for NBCU. “This is not designed to provide an alternative to Nielsen.”

While CIMM doesn’t directly challenge Nielsen with a new syndicated ratings service, it could open the door for other research firms to get a toehold in an arena that’s now monopolized by Nielsen. At the very least, it could certainly serve as a prod or even an additional resource for Nielsen, which has its own set top box and multi-screen measurement initiatives underway.

“We expect Nielsen, along with other research entities, to be a part of the solution,” said Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group.

CIMM promised that all research would be available to the industry at large. “Nothing proprietary; the goal is to publish the research for the entire industry,” said Dave Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS.

NBCU, whose Nielsen contract is up for renewal next year, has been the driving force behind the formation of CIMM. In June, Wurtzel called for the industry to work together in solving the increasingly mind-boggling problem of tracking audiences across more and more platforms. “We need a healthy dose of bipartisanship,” Wurtzel told the ARF Conference held in New York in June. “In every civilized world except the U.S. they create a structure where the industry entities take direct responsibility for the research.”

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.

“We’re trying to help the vendors out there who will value some feedback,” Wurtzel said.

At least one researcher sees CIMM as a positive move by the industry. “It’s helping to build momentum behind the types of measurement services we’ve been introducing,” said George Shababb, president of TNS Media Research, one of the research companies developing set top box measurement. “This is recognition by the industry that we need to move beyond measurement techniques we’ve been relying on for the past 50years.”

Whether CIMM’s efforts will lead to improved audience measurement only time will tell. Certainly it will not come cheap. Some of the industry’s most ambitious cross-platform efforts, including Project Apollo, the joint venture between Nielsen and Arbitron, were found to be too costly for the intended clients.

But CIMM members are hopeful that with all the major stakeholders in one place, a breakthrough might be found.

“We want to foster innovation. We don’t know if it will change things because we don’t know the results of the research. We’re trying to bring the best and brightest minds to the table to lead us to the future,” said Lyle Schwartz, director of implementation research and marketplace analysis for GroupM.

In a statement, Nielsen said: “We share all the objectives of the leaders of the CIMM. We’ve always worked closely with our clients to bring innovation to the industry. Based on what we know about CIMM and its mission, we look forward to working with them, along with our other clients to continue to define the future of media measurement across more and more screens.”

Adweek is a unit of the Nielsen Co.

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