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Nielsen Co. has told its media clients it will begin gathering Internet usage data before the end of the year from some households within the sampling that it uses for its traditional television audience measurement product.
The initiative is part of an effort to begin measuring TV audiences on the Web as more programming goes online and media companies seek to monetize audiences with cross-platform advertising.
The plan comes as online video usage on sites like Hulu and TV.com is exploding with the rise of digital media, and advertisers and TV network owners have voiced frustration over the industry's inability to measure audiences effectively across media platforms.
Meanwhile, major players in the cable TV industry, such as Comcast Corp. (CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Inc. (TWX), are testing an offering known as "TV Everywhere," which puts TV programming online but makes it accessible only to pay-TV subscribers. The plan amounts to an effort to preserve the TV subscription model online.
Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes said the firm's new data-collection effort will allow it to measure audiences on TV and on the Web.
"We'll have the ability to do cross-platform measurement for 'TV Everywhere' shortly," said Holmes.
Holmes said Nielsen's new Web usage data will allow clients to track how TV programming drives viewers onto the Web and vice versa. The firm already offers a product that measures online audiences completely separate from its TV data product, but the TV industry has pushed for more data about the online activities of its TV audiences.
By the end of next summer, Nielsen said it expects the be tracking Web usage in 7,500 households from the sampling of 20,000 households that it uses to measure TV ratings.
In a potential threat to Nielsen's longtime dominance in providing the industry-standard TV ratings, a group of major media companies and advertising firms recently formed the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, or CIMM, in an effort to support third-party research into how audiences are consuming media across technology platforms and find new and more effective ways to measure audiences for advertisers in the digital age.
The group includes media giants such as Time Warner, Walt Disney Co. (DIS), Viacom Inc. (VIA, VIAB), CBS Corp. (CBS, CBSA) and News Corp. (NWS, NWSA, NWS.AU), owner of this newswire and The Wall Street Journal. It also includes ad agency holding companies Interpublic Group of Cos. (IPG), Omnicom Group Inc. (OMC) and WPP PLC (WPP.LN, WPPGY), and major advertisers include AT&T Corp. (T), Unilever (UL, UN) and Procter & Gamble Co. (PG).
Nielsen and its rivals, such as TNS Media, comScore Inc. (SCOR) and Rentrak Corp. (RENT), have met with CIMM individually to discuss business possibilities. CIMM has said it's not seeking an alternative to Nielsen for audience ratings.
"One of the objectives of CIMM is cross-platform measurement, and this is a form of cross-platform measurement," said Holmes.
Nielsen, formerly known as VNU, was taken private in 2006 by a consortium of private-equity investors who are believed to be planning to take the company public again.
-By Nat Worden, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2472; email@example.com