MediaDailyNews – MediaPostNews

by David Goetzl

When researchers embarked on an initiative to upgrade media measurement, the fund-raising process looked reasonably easy. CEOs at the likes of NBC Universal and WPP Group were enthusiastic backers.

But that was before the economic tailspin.

“This was pre-Lehman Brothers, pre-recession and we got a tremendous amount of support from the CEOs financially,” NBCU research chief Alan Wurtzel said last month. “We honestly had to scale that back.”

Despite the retrenchment, the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) has 14 charter members committed to annually putting up $100,000 apiece for two years. The group includes seven owners of TV networks; four agency holding groups; and three advertisers.

But CIMM is actively searching for more members, hoping to increase its budget beyond the $1.4 million a year ($2.8 million over two) it appears to have in pocket.

CIMM is looking to seed pilot studies on how best to capitalize on set-top-box data — and measure viewing across the TV, Internet and handheld devices.

“The whole idea is — let’s just start from the beginning,” said Wurtzel, a driving force behind CIMM. “If you were inventing measurement today for a world that exists now and is going forward, what is the best way to do it.”

CIMM’s funding, however, could leave it with only a modest amount to accomplish its goals. Its $1.4 million annual budget (so far) must cover the salary of a soon-to-be-hired managing director and general operating expenses.

Recruiting new members could prove challenging, and at least in one instance, not because of the economy. An executive at one company said the business would take a pass because it was left out of initial conversations. “Now they are looking for additional members to get enough money to do the research … we do not plan on joining,” the person said.

But Scripps Networks Interactive, the parent of Food Network and HGTV, is set to sign on. “We expect to become a member in the next several months,” said research chief Mike Pardee in a statement. “It is a long-term initiative and commitment with great potential for the media and advertising business.” Agency Carat is also expected to officially join soon. Separately, at least one other major entity is moving through the application process and another is mulling it over.

CIMM, which is incorporated in Delaware as an LLC, has adopted a two-tier system for membership. Voting members pay the $100,000 a year and gain a seat on the board of directors, while non-voting participants can join for $25,000 annually. The voting members will determine the projects that CIMM green-lights.

CIMM is committed to a membership that draws from the three legs of TV media-buying — the networks, agencies and advertisers. Network operators include ESPN/ABC and Discovery, while agency owners include Publicis and WPP.

But most major content providers and agencies are already on board, so the most fertile area for attracting new members — and money — would seem to be from marketers. Only three leading advertisers – Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Unilever — have signed on. “We are considering the opportunity,” said State Farm Advertising Director Ed Gold. “But I believe since OMD — our long-time media agency — is going to be a part of this, they’re going to be looking out for our best interests.”

But Jack Wakshlag, head of research at CIMM member Turner Broadcasting, indicated that the coalition is on firm financial ground during a conference call last month. “We’ve got enough to begin and a commitment to do more when the time comes,” he said.

In September, when Wurtzel appeared at an Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) event, he made an appeal for new members and said he hoped to announce a significantly larger member base by the end of the year. The NBCU veteran has been serving as CIMM’s de facto chief.

Once the permanent managing director is hired, the group will issue requests for proposal (RFPs) in both the three-screen measurement and set-top-box areas. Independent research firms will then apply for funding to work on projects. The RFPs will be placed on CIMM’s yet-to-be-launched Web site.

CIMM has already spent some of its budget. Working as a consultant, former Lifetime executive Tim Brooks helped develop a framework for the RFPs, canvassing the CIMM members to get a sense of what they hoped the research would yield and whether they had any specific goals.

However, if CIMM finds it difficult to increase its budget, will it get the results it seeks?

Its projected figure is considerably less than the $3.5 million the Council for Research Excellence (CRE) gave Ball State University’s Center for Media Design and Sequent Partners for a year-long, high-profile study on video use. The CRE is backed by Nielsen, but functions as an independent industry think tank.

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