The nascent Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement — a coalition of over a dozen major media companies, advertisers and ad agencies –is tired of waiting for Nielsen to come up with a way to measure video audiences across multiple platforms. With funding from its members and a managing director on board, it’s focusing on set-top box data as a solution and hopes to establish an industry standard for cross-platform measurement.
The television business is tired of waiting around for Nielsen.
Believing that the need for a comprehensive system for measuring video audiences across multiple platforms has reached a critical stage, more than dozen major media companies, advertisers and ad agencies in September formed the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement with the goal of finding and possibly funding such a system.
Nielsen may or may not be a part of it.
“There are things that have to happen sooner rather than later,” says Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting. “Nielsen might be making some progress, but it may not be fast enough and there might be companies that have something new to get us to where we need to get.”
Jack Myers, industry consultant and publisher of the Jack Myers Media Business Report, says the formation of the group underscores the fact that many people believe Nielsen is not up to the task.
“The industry feels strongly that the research business is in need of entrepreneurial investment and enthusiasm to meet market solutions that Nielsen and other large corporations burdened by equity, parentage and debt cannot support,” he says.
CIMM’s goal isn’t to circumvent or undermine Nielsen, proponents says, but simply to leverage new technologies to find a way to accurately measure video audiences across various media, including broadcast, cable, the Internet and mobile devices.
“The way I look at the endgame is, if we look back in two years and say that media measurement is better today than it was two years ago, this will have succeeded,” says Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC Universal.
Wurtzel spearheaded the formation of CIMM two years ago, which officially launched in September with 14 heavy-hitting founding members: NBCU, Procter & Gamble, Group M, CBS, Discovery Networks, News Corp., Time Warner, Viacom, Walt Disney Co., AT&T, Unilever, Mediabrands, Omnicom and Starcom MediaVest Group.
Nielsen is already working on cross-platform measurement — as are a handful of other companies. In fact, in 2010, Nielsen plans to add Internet video measurement to its national people meter sample.
Since 2008, Nielsen has also been working in partnership with cable operator Charter in Los Angeles to measure audiences using set-top boxes.
If Nielsen is threatened by CIMM, it’s not admitting it.
“CIMM is focusing on set-top box data and cross-platform measurement. We’ve been working on this,” says Gary Holmes, a Nielsen spokesman. “We share the same objectives as CIMM. We’re looking forward to working with CIMM to meet these objectives.”
Beyond sparking faster development of cross-platform measurement tools, CIMM is also setting out to establish an industry standard for cross-platform measurement, rather than having a slew of companies offering competing services.
CIMM is pooling the financial resources of its members — each pays an annual fee of $25,000 or $100,000 — to help research firms establish these tools.
Ultimately, one company or a partnership will emerge as a CIMM-endorsed cross-platform measurement company. However, CIMM members will not be obligated to use this service and CIMM won’t have any ownership stake in the company.
“There may be a lot of companies out there that are working in [cross-platform measurement], but one or two agencies can’t fund the research,” says Lyle Schwartz, director of implementation research and marketplace analysis at GroupM.
“But maybe with the backing of this team, maybe with some financial support they can go out and bring their story to the industry and do some analysis where the industry can look at it and direct them.”
In the coming months, CIMM will kick into high gear. On Jan. 4, former Time Warner research director Jane Clarke starts working as CIMM’s first managing director.
CIMM will also soon formally issue an RFI — request for information — on cross-platform media measurement. (An informal version of it is already posted on the CIMM Web site.)
Nielsen is expected to be among the companies responding to the RFI as is Integrated Media Measurement Inc., which has been tracking cross-platform audiences since 2004.
Bill McKenna, IMMI’s CEO, says media outlets, advertisers and agencies are ramping up efforts to track multimedia audiences because they’re seeing viewers quickly embrace Internet and mobile video.
“The stakeholders — agencies, advertisers and media companies — have an interest in making sure they know where eyeballs are going,” he says. “They need to be able to use their financial models and transact business between buyers and sellers with the knowledge of where their impressions are going.”
In January, CIMM will also review responses to its first RFI for set-top-box data, in which it requested information on the type of data that research firms are collecting with set-top boxes and how they’re analyzing that data.
The set-top-box data is essentially CIMM’s first step toward finding a cross-platform measurement tool. The idea is to find out if set-top boxes are viable sources for measuring TV audiences and possibly a replacement for the panels of respondents Nielsen use to measure local and national TV viewing.
“That’s what the question is right now: Will this be better than using a sample?” says Kate Sirkin, executive vice president and global research director at Starcom MediaVest Group. “Or maybe the set-top boxes can be used to increase the sample.”
At least five companies responded to CIMM’s set-top-box RFI, including Nielsen and DVR maker TiVo.
Also issuing responses were Rentrak, which just signed its first customer for its local TV measurement service, Schurz’s KWCH-KSCW Wichita-Hutchinson, Kan.; TNS, which is already tracking set-top-box data in countries around the world, and TRA, which matches set-top-box viewing data with data collected by consumers at stores.
In its early public comments, CIMM seemed interesting in only national audience measurement. But that’s not the case, says NBCU’s Wurtzel.
“A local market guy is going to want to measure cross-platform as much as a national guy and, in some cases, the internet is becoming more important to stations,” he says. “So, anything we can do to foster that on a national and local level is going to be really important.”