Industry Group to Study How a Mobile Nation Uses Media

By SUZANNE VRANICA, Wall Street Journal

Some of the nation’s biggest media companies and advertisers, seeking to develop new ways of measuring audiences, could make Apple Inc.’s iPhone the vehicle for a study of how Americans consume media on a range of devices—from TV sets to mobile phones to computers.

The study would be one of the first major initiatives of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, a high-profile collaboration between the media and ad industries begun last summer with much fanfare.

“When you go from a single-media world to a multimedia world, then all the media-measurement techniques have to change” says Jane Clark, managing director of CIMM.

The group is in talks to hire Media Behavior Institute LLC, a New York media-research firm, to conduct a study in which participating consumers would get an iPhone in exchange for agreeing to report their media use several times a day. The effort could get off the ground in the fall, if approved by the group’s board members, says CIMM.

An iPhone app that may log study participants’ media use.
  
The iPhones would come with a specially designed app that study participants would log on to every half hour to answer questions, such as what media they were watching or listening to, who they were doing it with and whether they were using more than one device at a time.

In a media world that has grown increasingly fragmented, advertisers are eager to figure out how best to allocate their ad budgets. At the same time, media companies, which have seen TV audiences splinter over the years, are eager to find a way to prove that people are watching their shows on devices beyond the traditional TV set. They also are more frequently trying to sell ad packages across their different properties, such as a mix of broadcast and cable channels.

“We’d all like to have more insights into exactly how consumers are behaving across screens, the impact of seeing ads on each of them and in combination,” says Colleen Fahey Rush, executive vice president of strategic insights and research for Viacom‘s MTV Networks, one of CIMM’s founding members.

If the study proves effective, the group wants to continue to conduct the same type of research on a continuing basis, either annually or twice a year. But the decision will come down to cost.

The research can be expensive, and funding is a big issue for the group. People familiar with the project say it is seeking to spend just under $1 million on the study. Early plans call for it to include about 1,000 people.

“Right now we are trying to figure out how to make the budget fit the funding,” says Jim Spaeth, co-founder of the Media Behavior Institute.

CIMM, which has 16 full-fledged members and six nonvoting members, has raised about $1.75 million to work with this year. Members have agreed to fork over $100,000 annually for full membership or $25,000 without voting rights. The companies involved have committed to participate in the group for two years.

Members include General Electric Co.’s NBC, Viacom Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., Publicis Groupe SA’s Starcom MediaVest and Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Mediabrands unit.

Historically these companies have combined viewership data from a range of sources, including TV-audience-measurement heavyweight Nielsen Co. But the group thinks that approach led to holes in the research.

Nielsen itself will begin using a single source for online-video and TV-viewing measurement. It is currently installing Internet-measurement devices in Nielsen homes, and expects to begin offering the data in the fourth quarter.

Several members of CIMM say there is a sense of urgency to get their project under way since the coalition was formed almost a year ago.

Another focus for the group is developing new ways to measure TV-viewing patterns from set-top boxes that are controlled by telecom, cable and satellite firms. But that has been a more challenging task. The group says it tried to commission a pilot test of set-top data earlier this year, but has been unable to get many of the firms to share their data.

CIMM also is talking to Canoe Ventures, a group made up of the country’s six largest cable operators, including Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp., about a possible pilot test, says MTV Networks’ Ms. Rush.

While some companies, like Tivo Inc., have begun to give out data they collect through set-top boxes, the industry overall has been slow to release viewing data from the boxes because of technical issues and privacy concerns, CIMM says. Other companies are also more interested in selling the data, rather than participating in the study, according to a person familiar with the matter.

CIMM has come up with a set-top box lexicon, a common set of definitions for more than 800 terms used in analyzing set-top-box data. Members say a common language is needed because data providers have different meanings, and that makes it hard to get a clear picture from data pulled together from several companies.

The group has hired a consultant to write a white paper that includes all of the things the group wants from set-top-box ratings and what kinds of things it needs. It says it hopes the paper will be a “roadmap” for cable, satellite, and telecom companies.

However, CIMM’s Ms. Clark hasn’t abandoned her effort to get a pilot test done on the set-top box data. “I would love to see something by the end of the year and I am not giving up hope,” she says.

—Sam Schechner contributed to this article.

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