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Networks, advertisers seek better viewer counts

Fri, 09/11/2009 - 8:20am
David Bauder, AP Television Writer

NEW YORK (AP) – Fourteen media companies said they are joining forces to fund new ways to track viewership of television programming throughout various platforms.

ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox are all involved, along with Time Warner and Viacom. Prominent advertisers Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Unilever are also included in the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement.

The companies have all agreed to make contributions of at least $1 million combined. The coalition will give money to companies or individuals that present promising research opportunities.

Television networks have frequently grumbled about Nielsen Media Research, the company that has a virtual monopoly on counting TV viewers, the currency for a multibillion-dollar advertising business.

In particular, there are worries about an insufficient ability to account for people who watch programming in different forms – on their computers, through on-demand services and in public places. Although attempts to compete with Nielsen have failed, networks have been convinced in the past that complaints or other research initiatives prod Nielsen into updating its methods.

But Alan Wurtzel, chief researcher for NBC Universal, said the coalition simply wanted to look for innovative ideas at a time when habits and technology are rapidly changing.

"The notion that this is about Nielsen is just a misunderstanding of why we got together," Wurtzel said.

Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, said the coalition hopes Nielsen will be part of the solution.

Nielsen did not immediately respond to e-mail and telephone messages seeking comment Thursday.

ABC is a unit of The Walt Disney Co.; NBC is owned by General Electric Co.; Fox is a unit of News Corp.

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