Hammering out the BBM/Nielsen deal

Jeff Osborne is group vice-president at Media Buying Services and a bbm board member. Osborne has been heavily involved in the development of the bbm/Nielsen agreement.On Sept. 15, BBM Bureau of Measurement and A.C. Nielsen signed an agreement, which, for the...

Jeff Osborne is group vice-president at Media Buying Services and a bbm board member. Osborne has been heavily involved in the development of the bbm/Nielsen agreement.

On Sept. 15, BBM Bureau of Measurement and A.C. Nielsen signed an agreement, which, for the first time, provides for co-operation in delivering Canada’s tv audience research needs, and, at the same time, eliminates costly duplication of service.

Subject to a favorable ruling from the Competition Bureau of Canada, the agreement defines the geographic areas in which Nielsen will provide people meter measurement, and where bbm will provide diary survey measurement.

For the first time, a major tv market in Canada (Toronto) will be measured using the people meter research technology.

Ontario and Quebec regional markets will also be measured by people meters.

bbm will use diary measurement in all other tv markets.

People meter measurement at the network level has been in place for some time.

This deal took seed more than a year ago.

I suspect if Desert Storm had been as complicated a mission as the BBM Bureau of Measurement/A.C. Nielsen agreement, Kuwait would still be occupied by Iraq.

For those of us involved, the objectives were straightforward: open the door for the expansion of people meter measurement as insisted upon by the advertisers.

Monitor the integrity of the data.

Reduce needless and expensive duplication of service while maintaining customer choice.

Keep alive the opportunity for access to improved technology.

Further, there was no substantive opposition to the concept of a joint bbm/Nielsen agreement.

The advertisers as represented by the Association of Canadian Advertisers had for some time been pushing hard for expansion of people meter audience measurement, and, in fact, had committed to provide seed money.

bbm’s membership, as represented by its board early on, agreed in principle to proceed with negotiating a deal.

A.C. Nielsen opened its operations to bbm’s scrutiny as never before, and an enormous amount of information was exchanged between the two organizations.

This, therefore, is a story with no villains.

Rather, it involves a vast group of stakeholders representing all aspects of the broadcast and advertising industries, all of whom will be affected financially by implementation of this agreement, and, as a result, want to be sure that the evolution of broadcast measurement in Canada meets the objectives outlined above.

Of necessity, the process required consultation, debate, position papers, negotiation, negotiation, and more negotiation.

It has been suggested by some that the final agreement, perhaps because it reflects compromise, is unsatisfactory for all concerned.

This is a cynical point of view and does not do justice to the financial and philosophical commitment of virtually all industry players to move audience measurement forward.

The extension of people meters into Toronto is perhaps one small step in the evolution of audience measurement in Canada.

However, the bbm/Nielsen agreement and the industry consensus that this implies is one giant leap in the crusade for greater advertising accountability.

Maybe I’m being a little overexuberant, but, there is no question that this deal has some good stuff in it.

For instance, it eliminated costly duplication of service and commits bbm and Nielsen to evaluate sharing of resources.

It is not a financial deal that requires customer unanimity to implement. bbm’s members and Nielsen’s customers continue to contract with the respective services as before.

An annual diary sample will continue in Toronto. This allows for diary/meter data comparisons as well as Micro BBM analysis.

There is a formula for expansion of people meters into Vancouver and Montreal.

Additionally, any broadcaster or group of broadcasters can supplement the base measurement service (Nielsen or bbm) with the other service.

The deal is close-ended.

In 3 1/2 years, the industry will have to decide how to proceed. Some groan at the thought of starting over, but the benefits are great.

First, if new and improved technology is available, the door is opened to change. The deal allows for bbm to continue development work on other technologies, including passive meters.

Second, it forces Nielsen to be accountable to its customers.

As Hugh Latif, Nielsen’s general manager, said early in the discussions, ‘Nielsen will do everything possible to ensure that the deal is renewed.’

In a monopolistic environment, this is reassuring.

There are a number of other smart points within the agreement.

The thing I find most intriguing is that, by my reckoning, almost all broadcasters and media buying organizations will be bbm members.

This should, and I stress should, make bbm the perfect forum for industry-wide discussion and agreement on future audience measurement development.

In four years’ time, with technology evolving as quickly as it is, we probably will be surgically implanting measuring devices at birth.