Agency, TV Execs Question Nielsen’s Dropping PPM Deal

Reaction to Nielsen Media Research’s decision last week to quit a joint venture with Arbitron for the Portable People Meter dashed the hopes of agency executives and TV broadcasters who looked forward to single-source, multimedia measurement. On the news that Arbitron would go it alone, the company’s stock slid more than 11 percent to a 52-week low.

“I couldn’t believe they [Nielsen] were not going through with it,” said Jean Pool, evp and COO for Universal McCann and chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies media policy committee. “Anything is better than what we’ve got. Single source is really important, and we’re way behind the rest of the world.”

Few agency execs walking the halls at last week’s 4A’s media conference saw the logic in Nielsen’s decision. “Can you piss off more than one-half of your customers any more?” exclaimed Lee Doyle, managing partner and director of client services at Mediaedge:cia.

For more than five years, Nielsen (owned by Adweek parent VNU) spent millions examining the PPM’s inner workings but concluded last week that questions remained about using it as the sole TV-viewing measure.

“The PPM’s exposure-based definition of audience resulted in large and still unexplained increases in television viewership,” said Susan Whiting, NMR president and CEO in a letter to clients.

“What they say is unexplained, I say is missed TV viewing” by Nielsen, said David Poltrack, president of research for CBS. “There are differences in the techniques, and we don’t know which is correct. Intuitively when you look at the different viewing levels, you can come up with reasons why viewing is higher.”

Arbitron executives were disappointed but not completely surprised. “The last lingering issue for commercialization has been checked off,” said Pierre Bouvard, president of sales and marketing for Arbitron, which won’t go head-to-head with Nielsen in the TV-ratings business.

Arbitron said it would offer PPM data to the TV industry as it rolls out its PPM radio-ratings service. Several media companies have expressed interest in encoding their TV signals, including CBS, which owns both radio and TV stations.

“Although the PPM may not be the currency, it provides out-of-home and cross-measures of media that no other service provides,” Poltrack said. “We now have two companies with two approaches.”

“We need a [ratings] currency, but increasingly that isn’t the only type of information we need,” said David Ernst, executive vp and director of futures and technologies for Initiative. “There is an increasing reliance on other data. Ratings are like the speedometer, but now we’re developing an instrument panel.”