What’s Really Going on With the Latest Challenge to Nielsen?

Sep 11, 2009  •  Post A Comment

By Chuck Ross

This week saw the official announcement of a group of media buyers and sellers who could possibly challenge Nielsen’s dominance in media measurement.

First, some stats:

Name: Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM). At least that’s what its logo says. Some news accounts—including the New York Times—say it’s not Coalition, but Council. Whatever—not important.

14 Charter Members: AT&T, CBS, Discovery Communications, GroupM, Interpublic Group’s Mediabrands, NBC Universal, News Corp., Omnicom Media Group, P&G, Starcom MediaVest Group Worldwide, Time Warner, Unilever, Viacom and The Walt Disney Co.

CIMM’s self-described Mission Statement: To explore new worlds, to go where no…oops that’s close but not quite it. It’s mission is to “Promote innovation and explore new, high quality ways to measure audiences across traditional and new media.”

How’s it gonna do this? MediaPost’s Joe Mandese, who is hands down the best reporter covering media measurement, wrote in his account of the CIMM announcement yesterday that someone had leaked to him a draft request for proposal (RFP) from CIMM. The draft carried the name of NBC Universal President of Research and Media Development, Alan Wurtzel. Wurtzel’s been the driving force behind CIMM.

According to Mandese’s terrific piece, the RFP, prepared in February, was looking to fund two studies: “One for a pilot study that would ‘study producing real cross-platform data that reflects exposure of specific video sources on television, the Internet and mobile media;’ and a second for a digital set-top data project that would deliver ‘three to six months of actual STB [set-top box] data, to be used for evaluation (not sales) purposes.’ "

Furthermore, Mandese writes, the RFP said, "We are agnostic as to who will supply us with this data; the field is open, but we need these forward-looking metrics, adequate to the high standards of trading and post-evaluation, within the next 3-5 years."

Finally, Mandese quotes from the RFP: "As buyers and sellers of advertising-supported media, we are deeply concerned that, despite the efforts of some research suppliers, media measure is not keeping pace with urgent business needs."

Hmm. “Some research suppliers.” Wonder who that could be.

Back on August 13, the Financial Times, when it first broke this story, interviewed Sam Armando, SVP of audience analysis of Starcom, which is a member of CIMM.

“The most deficient thing is there’s no single source measurement [for TV and digital video],” Armando said. He added: It was not a case of “let’s go out to replace Nielsen”, he said, but the consortium’s plan did not require a “leap of faith”.

Let’s follow the money here. The major broadcast networks are probably paying Nielsen $40 million to $50 million annually. Media agencies pay a fraction of that, but $2 million to $4 million is still significant. And mostly gone are the days when they can pass along all of their Nielsen costs to their clients.

 Nielsen is a monopoly player. Its ratings are the currency of the business. Billions of dollars of ad revenue are based on Nielsen’s rating measurements.

So far CIMM is being funded by virtually peanuts. Sources have told TVWeek that CIMM members are ponying up $100,000 each. Claire Atkinson, B&C’s stellar ad reporter, also is reporting this number. So, in total, CIMM has less than $2 million with which to play.

As has been reported everywhere, dissatisfaction with Nielsen is nothing new. And past efforts to fund a true challenger to Nielsen have failed.
Is this time different? Maybe.

 First things first. There are myriad issues with set-top box data. First, it’s interesting that the folks who have the data—the cable operators, satellite providers, and the telcos who provide video—are not members of the coalition.

Secondly, there aren’t any standards thus far for gathering data from the boxes. And what about the fact that the boxes are not in the homes of many minorities? There are issues of getting enough information on a national basis, issues about privacy, and issues about getting demographic data.
So clearly, in its initial stages, CIMM is an attempt to stimulate research at the set top box level, to create a common platform for analyzing that kind of census level data and to find constructive ways to stimulate discussion.

Moving forward, if the many challenges can be met, perhaps CIMM can develop a currency with which to base the buying of ad time across myriad platforms. And that’s a prospect that should keep Nielsen executives up at night.#


  1. Don’t leave out the local market affiliates that pay MOST of Nielsen’s revenues. A single station in a top 50 market pays $500k+ per year to be told by Nielsen that they are having a hard time keeping up with the measurement of minorities and younger viewers (under 35). So stations get a HUGE monthly expense and are reminded that these are only ESTIMATES. Seems like with the kind of money that the stations pay, that Nielsen could provide more reliable and comprehensive data.

  2. Good post, thanks

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