Updated: Nielsen, Researchers Weigh In on CIMM

Unsatisfied with how media audiences are being measured in a multiscreen age, 14 of the nation’s largest media companies, agencies and advertisers officially announced Thursday (Sept. 10) the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement.

The new group, which 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 any and all research firms, are in the works for fourth quarter.

Though the members would not divulge financing, CIMM has an estimated several million dollars to fund the research and will 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 the CIMM include: Time Warner, Disney-ABC Television Group and Disney Media Networks, Interpublic Group’s Mediabrands, News Corp., Viacom, Starcom MediaVest Group Worldwide, The Procter & Gamble Co., 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 NBC Universal. “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 multiscreen 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 will be available to the industry at large. “Nothing [will be] proprietary; the goal is to publish the research for the entire industry,” said Dave Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS.

NBC Universal, whose Nielsen contract is up for renewal next year, has been the driving force behind the formation of CIMM. In June, Alan Wurtzel, president of research for NBCU, 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 50 years.”

Only time will tell whether or not CIMM’s efforts will lead to improved audience measurement. 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.