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Report on new TV ratings company feels like old news to local entrepreneur Frank Maggio



 NielsenMediaNews revealed today that a host of companies may unite to create a new TV and media ratings service felt like an old story to St. Petersburg entrepreneur Frank Maggio.

That's because Maggio sunk more than $10-million into trying to develop his own ratings system back in 2006, directly taking on the corporation which dominates the TV ratings game, The Nielsen Company.

The new effort, according to a report in the Financial Times, will cut across major lines in the media industry, including broadcasters such as CBS, NBC and Fox owner News Corp.; cable companies such as Time Warner and AT&T; cable channels such as Discovery, Viacom and Disney and advertisers such as Procter and Gamble.

The idea, the story said, is to create a system for measuring viewership using data from cable set-top boxes that would produce figures for traditional TV and digital sources. Which is exactly what Maggio tried to do years ago -- even developing a plan for buying Nielsen and replacing its system with data collected from cable set-top boxes and smaller surveys.Frankmaggio

The competition brings special interest locally, because Nielsen operates a huge data collection facility in Oldsmar employing many hundreds of people

"The bottom line, is there should not be a single provider of ratings – particularly in an industry as large and varied as television," said Maggio, who found it significant that the consortium members the Financial Times identified included major players in almost every stage of the TV industry -- broadcast networks, advertisers, cable companies and media buying companies.

 At the very least, the project seems to be a shot across the bow of The Nielsen Company, which has faced a growing chorus of complaints from customers about incorrect or late ratings reports. "some people say, if you want better TV ratings you sue Nielsen," Maggio said. "That's only something you say when you're facing a monopoly."

Back in May, Nielsen cited "server issues" as the cause for a delay which kept customers from getting ratings data for several days;earlier this year, Miami-based Sunbeam Television filed a lawsuit again Nielsen alleging a new measurement system cut its viewership figures in half.

Representatives for Fox, NBC and CBS declined to comment on the Financial Times reporting. Likewise, Nielsen director of corporate media relations Marisa Grimes said "It's all speculation now. The only thing I can say on the record is that we don't have a comment on speculation."

Maggio isn't the only upstart to try challenging Nielsen; radio ratings service Arbitron's attempts to develop a new TV ratings service dubbed ScanAmerica ended in 1992 when the company couldn't sign up enough big industry players.

Nielsen-logo Critics note that having companies which sell TV advertising involved in creating the ratings used to value those commercial spots may be like asking a fox to guard a hen house. But Maggio, who settled a lawsuit with Nielsen last year, said the TV ratings company's monopoly on the industry has allowed long term problems to grow into serious issues as advertisers seek new outlets.

“Both Nielsen and TV networks are paying the price for not having competition sooner," he said. "Advertisers have no faith in their ratings. When times are tight, where do you put your money? Somewhere where there’s more accountability.”

(Thanks to Times staff writer Michael Kruse and Times researcher Shirl Kennedy, who contributed to this story.)

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:00pm]


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