erinMedia Settles Antitrust Suit With Nielsen, Terms Remain Confidential

In an anticlimactic resolution to a high profile, and potentially sensational courtroom battle, a federal judge late last week signed a settlement agreement ending erinMedia's antirust suit against Nielsen Media Research. The settlement marks the latest in a long line of victories for Nielsen, which over the years has fended off competitive challenges from Arbitron, AGB, R.D. Percy & Co., and SMART. It also marks the end of the most recent chapter of erinMedia founder Frank Maggio's storied career, which reads like a Horatio Alger novel, though Maggio vows it is not his final chapter where the TV industry is concerned.

"I can confirm that erinMedia's antitrust suit against Nielsen Media Research has been settled on confidential terms," Maggio told MediaDailyNews on Friday, but declined to elaborate other than to say erinMedia would remain in business, and would focus on ways of licensing its patents for TV audience measurement.

While terms of the settlement may not be known, it appears clear that Maggio did not receive the kind of "injunctive relief" that would have forced Nielsen to alter its business agreements with the major television networks, making it easier of other competitors to enter the marketplace. According to court documents, he was also seeking upwards of $591 million in damages, which would have been tripled under federal antitrust laws, plus attorneys' fees and trial costs.



A Nielsen spokesperson also had no comment on the suit's settlement, but the resolution suggests that the only viable competition facing Nielsen in the U.S. television marketplace now comes from companies like TNS Media Research, and Google, which like erinMedia, are trying to gain access to digital set-top data in order to measure census-level behavior of TV viewers. Nielsen has also recently stepped its own efforts in that area, announcing a recent deal with Charter Communications for Nielsen's DigitalPlus service.

The settlement of erinMedia's federal antitrust suit, meanwhile, must come as some relief for a number of industry players, including top Nielsen executives, and the heads of research from major television networks, and cable TV operators, all of whom had either given testimony via depositions that are now sealed as part of the settlement, or whom were on the prospective witness list if the case had gone to trial.

The witness list, which reads like a who's who of the U.S. TV research community, included names such as ABC's Henry DeVault, CBS' David Poltrack, and NBC Universal's Alan Wurtzel, and even included this reporter.

The trial exhibit list also promised to be revelatory, including numerous references to confidential documents, emails between network and Nielsen executives, and various business agreements. Among the sealed exhibits, were some particularly intriguing references to a "subscription service agreement between erinMedia and ESPN," suggesting erinMedia had at least one high profile client before it pulled the plug on its research operations last year. And ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on the nature of that agreement.

David Goetzl conducted research and contributed to this story

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