Nielsen/BBM in tech wrangle

The battle for supremacy in Canada's television audience measurement business may enter the legal realm....

The battle for supremacy in Canada’s television audience measurement business may enter the legal realm.

Nielsen Media Research has notified BBM Bureau of Measurement that its modified Picture Matching audience measurement system infringes on a Nielsen patent to be issued this month. If BBM does not refrain from using the offending technology, Nielsen is threatening to take the matter before the courts.

If BBM is found to be infringing on Nielsen’s intellectual property turf, it could be forced to replace its Picture Matching technology with a system from The Arbitron Company in New York City, for which it holds the rights in Canada. It would, however, be an extremely costly proposition.

Mike Leahy, group vice-president, sales and marketing for Nielsen Media Research, says the patent was applied for in 1995 and BBM was first notified of the potential infringement by a Nielsen lawyer in 1998 when BBM modified its Picture Matching system to more accurately measure simulcast programming.

To date, Leahy says neither BBM nor its supplier Taylor Nelson Sofres have responded to letters sent by Nielsen legal counsel. BBM has, however, issued a communiqué to clients and media buyers that characterizes Nielsen’s concerns as ‘yet one more attempt in its campaign to frustrate and squash the Canadian industry’s efforts to introduce a competitive alternative to the Nielsen Meter Service.’

For his part, Leahy says Nielsen has spent a lot of money on developing new technologies to better measure television audiences. ‘And when we develop those new technologies, we’re certainly going to protect the rights.’

Nielsen’s patent is for its ‘Audience Measurement System’ that uses both pattern recognition and code detection technologies. Nielsen alleges that BBM has been using both pattern recognition and code detection since modifying its Picture Matching system to read both a passive video signature and an encoded light burst. The combination allows BBM to better distinguish one television station from another when programs are simulcast.

For its part, BBM does not believe that its television audience measurement system infringes on the pending Nielsen patent.

‘They have a patent that will issue this month and, having taken some advice, they seem to think we infringe on that patent,’ says Ron Bremner, BBM’s vice-president of television. ‘We take a very different view of that.’

Professing he’s not at liberty to talk about the matter in detail because it’s in the hands of BBM’s lawyers, Bremner maintains: ‘We are extremely sure of our position.

‘We’ve been aware of what they think for a couple of years and we’ve taken the absolute best advice on this and we remain confident there is no infringement. We’re confident we’re on very solid ground.’