The Chief Research Officer at Turner Broadcasting offered a spirited endorsement Wednesday of Nielsen’s proposed $1.26 billion deal to acquire Arbitron. From his perspective, the media industry needs reliable cross-platform measurement that can serve as a currency -- yesterday. And, he believes a marriage will move that along.
“A combination at this time accelerates the process,” Wakshlag said in an interview, though he acknowledged the process will still have a long way to go even with a merger.
“My tweet says what I feel … I am happy to see progress with these companies working together,” he added in reference to a recent Twitter drop. “And, yes if this merger will accelerate the measurement of any content, anytime on any device, anywhere – it’s good for my business.”
Wakshlag is hardly an active tweeter – his feed includes 14 missives since July 2009 – but he recently took to the social networking site to tout a cross-platform initiative Turner has engineered, which uses Arbitron and Nielsen data. He implied the project, CNN All-Screen, might have been easier had the two companies already been together.
“This is a positive sign of what is possible when Nielsen and Arbitron combine efforts,” he tweeted, linking to a Broadcasting & Cable article about the CNN product.
The effective green light for the Nielsen/Arbitron merger – which would combine the dominant currency providers in radio and TV measurement -- is presumably tied up somewhere in the halls of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Or, maybe not. The FTC may have indicated to Nielsen that it’s not in favor unless the company enters into a consent decree -- maybe agreeing to a divestiture or promising licensing opportunities.
Certainly, the FTC has taken a look at whether the deal will give Nielsen too much of an advantage in that cross-platform space that is so important to Wakshlag and others. Will it prove anti-competitive with so much data under one roof?
It might stand to reason that having the companies continue to chase solutions separately might be beneficial. Could a merger stifle innovation?
Wakshlag said, yes, competition is good for the most part. But, there are enough players out there toiling in multi-platform measurement that taking one off the market isn't a concern.
“There’s plenty of room for competition and there are other companies that are coming up with new and interesting ideas that will be part of the process, including ours,” he said.
"Ours" was a reference to CNN All-Screen, which uses Arbitron’s out-of-home TV measurement data, Nielsen’s TV ratings and ways to capture PC and mobile usage to show CNN’s reach beyond TV. The Arbitron data comes via its portable people meter (PPM) technology.
B&C reported that Turner is set to begin using CNN At-Home, which also measures HLN consumption, as a currency this fall. That begs the question if Turner can orchestrate a multi-platform product with Arbitron and Nielsen as separate entities, can’t a currency be developed without a merger?
“It could, but at this point in time with the products that we see available and/or on the horizon, we think that the probability of having (one) ... sooner rather later is
helped by (a merger),” Wakshlag said.
In a separate realm, Wakshlag declined to address whether Nielsen and Arbitron together would lead to some sort of bundling and higher pricing. That, however, is probably more a matter of concern to the likes of CBS, ESPN and Univision that have TV and radio products.
CBS’s top researcher David Poltrack – another Mt. Rushmore candidate – has come out in favor of the deal. ESPN and Univision have declined comment.
Also declining comment was Wakshlag regarding what he might want the FTC to seek in a consent decree with Nielsen.
The proposed Nielsen-Arbitron deal was announced late last year. It may be a testament to the thoroughness of the FTC. Or, how complicated the future of media measurement is. Or, a wariness about a bigger Nielsen. Or, tangling about what a consent decree might look like. Or, something else, that the review process has taken this long.
But back to the cross-platform measurement pursuit. Wakshlag is optimistic.
“Sooner or later, the process will settle on one because at the end of the day,” he said. “Nobody wants multiple currencies. I don’t want to trade in pounds, euros, dollars and drachmas.”
One currency. All screens. Oh, if only so simple.