For a while now, Arbitron’s COO Sean Creamer has been suggesting that the portable people meter (PPM) could play a more prominent role in TV measurement. During his comments last week, a J.P. Morgan executive wondered whether the company had offered Viacom help recently -- it was tongue in cheek.
But Arbitron CEO Bill Kerr piped in quickly and sternly: “I think you can draw any conclusions from Sean’s comments that you want to draw.”
Kerr may have been skittish about wading into a matter that has Viacom alleging Nielsen has been undercounting viewership at Nickelodeon. And, Creamer had just said that Arbitron is wary about being used as a negotiating tool, where it might allow a company like Viacom to effectively light a fire under Nielsen.
But clearly, TV is an opportunity for Arbitron, the dominant radio measurement company, to use its PPMs in another arena. And Arbitron is using an initiative with the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) and its TV out-of-home ratings service to gain a foothold.
It comes as media buyers and sellers are hungry for alternatives to Nielsen and multiple players are sprouting up claiming set-top-box (STB) data is an answer. There are frustrations that Nielsen’s national TV measurement panel may not be representative since it draws from about 20,000 homes.
Why then wouldn’t PPMs be considered as an alternative along with the STBs? The devices are generating data in 48 markets and draw from a panel of 70,000 -- three and a half times the Nielsen entrant.
PPMs could have potential as part of a service that melds its results with data from panels and STBs. Nielsen is pursuing a “hybrid” model in local markets, but not nationally. So, Arbitron could form a partnership with one of the STB companies such as Kantar or Rentrak to establish a new offering – or Nielsen.
“We firmly believe that there are other data sources that can be brought in and fused or combined with (Nielsen) to provide a fuller picture and we’re certainly interested in evaluating where we might play a role,” Creamer said.
Years ago, Arbitron had captured a significant share of the local TV business while competing with Nielsen. But it abandoned its efforts in 1993 to focus on its core radio offerings.
At least one company feels Arbitron has been hindered in getting back into TV because Nielsen has used monopoly power to keep it out. Sunbeam Television, which owns the NBC stations in Boston and Miami, alleged that in an anti-trust suit, which a judge did not buy.
Yet, Arbitron isn’t looking now to build the main thoroughfare, but some needed side roads.
“We can provide supplemental services to (Nielsen) as opposed to a currency replacement … finding opportunities where the current service has limitations,” Creamer said while speaking with the J.P. Morgan executive and presentin to investors.
Creamer did add that Arbitron believes a single dominant ratings source benefits the industry. There’s an element of defense there, though. To suggest otherwise could raise questions why Arbitron is the Nielsen of radio.
Arbitron is in the process of delivering research to CIMM on a test that looks to examine the best way to move forward with cross-platform measurement. The CIMM work -- which uses a panel of about 500 -- is using PPMs (and other tools) to gauge the relationship between TV, Internet and mobile measurement.
One of Arbitron’s aims is to develop a cross-platform business. Along with gathering data for NBCUniversal during the 2010 Olympics, the CIMM work offers an entrée there. The PPMs use could prompt interest in its TV potential.
CIMM’s 24 members run the largest networks in the country. Many from Time Warner to Discovery to Scripps don’t have radio operations and extensive interaction with Arbitron.
“Our expectation is (the test) will lead to insights not previously available to those important constituents and present an opportunity for us to sell directly to the who’s who list of members,” he said.
More TV-specific is Arbitron’s service measuring consumption outside the home since consumers carry the PPMs. CNBC recently signed on, following Turner. Nielsen abandoned an out-of-home (OOH) co-venture in 2008 after just ESPN and agency Zenith signed on, so there was an opening.
“We have filled that gap,” Creamer said.
It hopes to fill many.