Real Media Riffs - Thursday, Feb 22, 2007

KEEPING TAB -- When people look back on Joe Philport's long and winding career in the media research business, they will likely notice two things: 1) He has been involved in some pretty high-profile and usually very innovative endeavors; and 2) He usually wasn't with them very long.

He was part of the team at AGB that tried to launch the first people meter TV ratings system in the U.S., before it got outflanked by Nielsen. He was also part of the team at Y&R that developed the agency's highly regarded Brand Asset Valuator research, before it got banked by WPP. And he's had short stints at many of the biggest and best research companies - including Nielsen - before ending up at, of all places, the Traffic Audit Bureau.

To his credit, Philport has helped breathe some real life and an important sense of purpose into the TAB, and he's managed to do it at a time when comparable firms in the print media industry look moribund, out-of-touch, and possibly even incompetent by comparison. Philport did this by broadening the TAB's mandate beyond simple traffic audits, and taking the lead role in the out-of-home industry on an important and much-needed audience measurement initiative that some believe may be the model for all other media to follow.



It's been a slow, pain-staking process that has required equal amounts of politics and salesmanship, but in the end, he has somehow managed to get most of the key stakeholders in the out-of-home media industry to agree on a process that arguably is the closest thing to a JIC, or a joint industry committee, that the U.S. media marketplace is likely to see. He only faces two obstacles: time; and his old nemesis, Nielsen.

Philport finally unveiled a key final component in the TAB's multi-faceted audience measurement initiative, an outdoor ratings system that will be managed by the highly-regarded team at Mediamark Research Inc. The problem is that the system will not roll out until 2008, giving Nielsen plenty of time to expand its own fledgling outdoor measurement system - a new-fangled one utilizing state-of-the-art GPS technology. Given Nielsen's track record at boxing out rivals and potential competitors, it will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Nielsen has incredible resources, not simply financial ones (though it surely has plenty of that form the robust cash flow thrown off by its TV ratings business), but also its awesome market clout. In fact, we've only seen Nielsen lose in one recent market battle: its attempt to launch New Millennium, a back-office media management system that tried to compete with Donovan Data Systems. Sure Monitor-Plus is still an also-ran to TNS, but at least Nielsen's making a go of that.

The truth is that Nielsen has not failed at any recent media research initiatives it has launched, and from what we hear, it is dead serious about penetrating the outdoor media measurement marketplace. It's already got a running start. And it can afford to subsidize its rollout until it also eventually dominates that market.

Time will tell whether the industry ultimately supports Nielsen's solution, or the TAB approach - or maybe even both. In either case, outdoor will end up with better, more credible audience measurement.

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