An industrywide attempt to improve the television ratings picture is finally taking shape.
Already under discussion is how to collect primary ratings research that would provide a baseline against which to compare data and analysis from Nielsen Media Research, which holds a near monopoly on TV ratings in the United States.
Representatives of Nielsen were on hand Jan. 31 at a nine-hour meeting in New York, along with a standing-room-only crowd of about 175 TV industry professionals from networks, ad agencies, competing rating services and other related businesses. The meeting was set up by the Advertising Research Foundation, a New York-based group whose mission, as stated on its Web site, is to “improve the practice of advertising, marketing and media research in pursuit of more effective marketing and advertising communications.”
The group, founded in 1936, has been galvanized in recent months as dissatisfaction has surfaced about Nielsen.
“The industry is all fired up,” said Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus. “I think we, Nielsen, need to do some things about it very quickly.”
At the extraordinary Jan. 31 meeting on the “Accountability of Audience Measurement,” representatives from several foreign countries addressed the group to discuss how they handle TV ratings. Presentations were made by joint industry committees, or JICs, which collect and crunch data in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Germany. There were also speakers from Canada and Australia. Unlike in the United States, the JICs are able to bid out the research to competing services to get the best results.
“I think the road to progress has been clearly identified,” ARF CEO Bob Barocci said.
However, Mr. Barocci declined to be specific except to say, “A problem defined is a problem half-solved.”
Complaints about Nielsen in recent months have included allegations that the new Local People Meters undercount minorities and fail to provide the demographic info as promised and when promised.
Mr. Loftus agreed that a lot of frustration was expressed in the meeting. He said it was “a call for action on Nielsen’s part. I don’t think it can be ignored.”
“The extended industry spoke with great clarity and great passion,” said Mr. Barocci, who described the ARF’s role as that of a facilitator, not a leader.
Because the JIC concept has been regarded as fraught with antitrust questions, any exploration of the subject must be handled carefully to avoid charges it would just be creating a new monopoly. But many participants left the ARF meeting-which was closed to the press-convinced that the industry representatives are capable of avoiding such pitfalls.
ARF’s TV and radio councils are scheduled to meet March 7. That is expected to result in an action plan, which will be presented and discussed April 19 at a general session of the 51st Annual ARF Conference. That meeting will include a presentation by Dr. Albert Colussi of the AGB Group, which is deploying people meter measurement systems in other countries.