Tele-Communications Inc.'s TCI Communications Inc.
(TCIC) cable arm has become the second major MSO to sign up for ADcom Information Services
Inc.'s local-audience-measurement ratings.
ADcom took another major step toward becoming a
local-ratings alternative to Nielsen Media Research last week when WPP Group PLC announced
that it had acquired a financial stake in the company. Ad agencies Ogilvy & Mather and
J. Walter Thompson Co. are under the WPP umbrella.
The researcher will soon seek industry commitments for its
proposed local-television and cable-ratings rollout across the top 30 DMAs, said Dick
Spooner, ADcom's vice president of ad sales, last week in a phone interview.
Asked about the costs of that expansion, he would only say,
"It's a huge number." Once commitments are in hand, he said, "Installs
would take another year" to accomplish.
Systems for Measuring and Reporting Television (SMART) --
Statistical Research Inc.'s network-TV/cable-ratings initiative, which is now
planning a national rollout -- represents an even greater threat to Nielsen.
By September 1999, about 1,500 homes will be in
ADcom's San Francisco meter sample, along with 930 in Dallas, Spooner said. ADcom
intends to build its combined sample to 4,000 households by 2005, he added.
Late last week, Jerry Machovina, executive vice president
of ad sales at TCIC, cited the importance of a sample many times larger than
Nielsen's, and of one that's all cable.
Moreover, ADcom's data will be cross-referenced with
available demographic and product-purchase information -- the idea being to better
pinpoint prospects for advertisers within geographically targeted zones.
Machovina said in a prepared statement that the MSO
"will be able to better validate local-cable viewership and product-consumption
patterns ... Our partnership will provide more reliable TV-audience ratings, plus consumer
TCI will expand the service to other markets eventually,
Machovina said in an interview, but it won't buy an equity in ADcom. TCI will remain
"an observer," because "we don't want to bias their efforts." At
the same time, TCI continues discussions with Nielsen. "We haven't closed the
door on them," he noted.
Since late 1996, ADcom has been producing local ratings for
MediaOne in Jacksonville, Fla., resulting in a "dramatic increase" in ad sales
there, Spooner said, describing the test as "extremely successful." Now,
MediaOne is talking about expanding elsewhere, he said, adding that ADcom is in
discussions with "all of the other major MSOs," as well.
Agency buyers and cable programmers like ESPN and USA
Networks Inc. have said that they're watching that Florida test with interest.
WPP last week moved well beyond the interest stage by
taking a "significant" minority equity stake in ADcom, joining earlier investors
Arbitron Co., General Electric Co.'s GE Capital unit and Veronis Suhler &
Associates. For Arbitron, its investment represents a return to the local-TV-ratings fray
-- a field that it quit years ago.
Spooner said that since WPP owns Simmons Market Research
Bureau, the well-known magazine-readership and product-usage researcher, Simmons'
product-usage data conceivably could be cross-referenced to ADcom's ratings
"down the road."