After years of complaining about the inadequacies of Nielsen Media Research's panel-based TV ratings services, a group of major media companies, ad agencies and marketers is finally trying to do something about it.
But their goal is not to unseat Nielsen as the standard by which TV ad rates are set. Rather, the 14 companies behind the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement said they're aiming to fund the development of technologies and methodologies for new forms of audience measurement -- whether those come from Nielsen or someone else.
"We think it's time to take our future into our own hands," said NBC Universal president of research Alan Wurtzel (pictured, left), adding that it was a "misperception that CIMM was developed as an alternative to Nielsen."
So what's the point of CIMM, if not to challenge the incumbent ratings provider? One of the tough problems the group wants to tackle, Wurtzel said, is to arrive at a "single-source measure" of viewing across television, online and at some point mobile.
"It's really, really hard to do," he said on a conference call with reporters. "It's probably going to require new, innovative technologies... and that's going to take money."
Following CIMM's announcement, Nielsen expressed support for the new initiative.
"We share all of the objectives of the leaders of the coalition," Nielsen spokeswoman Susan Duffy said. "Based on what is now known about the coalition and its mission, we look forward to working with them along with our clients and the industry to continue to define the future of media measurement across more screens."
CIMM's founding members are comprised of seven media companies, CBS, Discovery Communications, NBC Universal, News Corp., Time Warner Inc., Viacom and The Walt Disney Co.; four ad agencies, GroupM, Interpublic Group's Mediabrands, Omnicom Media Group and Starcom MediaVest Group Worldwide; and three large advertisers, AT&T, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.
"CIMM will provide a big tent, where the measurement concerns of the entire industry can be addressed," Wurtzel said.
CIMM's two initial areas of focus are TV measurement through set-top-box data and cross-platform media measurement. The group hopes to issue requests for proposals for each in the fourth quarter of the year.
"The goal is to explore measurement systems in each of these areas and look for innovative solutions," said Peter Seymour, Disney Media Networks executive vice president of strategy and research.
And CIMM expects Nielsen -- along with many other media-measurement firms -- to respond to the RFPs, said Colleen Fahey Rush, MTV Networks executive vice president of strategic insights and research.
Nielsen has its own cross-platform measurement service, dubbed Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement (A2/M2), but the company does not expect full implementation of Internet meters to its 18,000-home National People Meter panel until 2011.
Wurtzel reiterated that the goal is to solve thorny research problems, not to create a brand-new standard for TV advertising measurement.
For example, with respect to using set-top box data to measure TV viewing, "it's the Wild West," he said, with no industry standards in place. "We're really trying to help the vendors out there who would value some feedback... It's not about establishing currency, it's about methodology and technology."
CIMM has a first-year funding commitment from the participating companies "in the seven-figure range," according to Jack Wakshlag, Turner Broadcasting System's chief research officer, which will be seed money to fund research initiatives. The members have also made multiyear commitments to increase funding as the scope of the coalition's projects grows.
"We've got enough to begin, and commitment for more when the time comes," Wakshlag said.
Among CIMM's first priorities are to conscript the participation of other companies, and to hire an executive director who will report to a CIMM board with representation from each of the three industry sectors. A wider decision-making body governing CIMM's research initiatives will include representatives from each of the 14 founding members.
After the coalition's research projects are complete, they will be made publicly available, according to CBS chief research officer Dave Poltrack. "The goal is to publish these for the whole industry," he said.
Poltrack, responding to a question about whether CIMM might face regulatory scrutiny, said legal counsels from all the companies were involved through the process of forming the coalition and that the participants are confident CIMM meets all legal requirements.