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erinMedia Rips Nielsen

Start-up TV-ratings company erinMedia claimed that Nielsen’s launch of a unit that also uses digital set-top data has had a “chilling effect” on its efforts to secure $25 million from investors.

Nielsen unveiled its plans earlier this week to consolidate its various initiatives involving digital set-top-box data into a new service, called Nielsen DigitalPlus.

The service -- which will integrate set-top data from cable operators and direct-broadcast satellite providers with other Nielsen information -- also picked up a customer last week. DirecTV and Nielsen reached an agreement to test the measurement of interactive-viewing behavior by the DBS provider’s subscribers through an anonymous panel of 300,000 DirecTV interactive customers.

The Nielsen DigitalPlus announcement comes in the midst of erinMedia -- which has an antitrust suit pending against Nielsen -- trying to nail down $25 million in financing.

erinMedia has been working with venture capital firm Spark Capital,which is trying to form a consortium that will finance the new ratings company. By this coming week, erinMedia officials expect to have a better read on whether Spark has lined up commitments for a consortium.

“The timing [of Nielsen’s announcement] is not coincidental,” said Frank Maggio, the Florida real estate entrepreneur behind erinMedia. “It’s had a chilling effect on discussions with possible consortium members … If that was Nielsen’s intent, I would be the first to admit it worked.”

But Nielsen officials denied that their timing was in any way related to erinMedia’s efforts to find investors, adding that the creation of the Nielsen DigitalPlus unit has been in the works for some time.

“[Maggio] has no facts to support his absurd accusations and the actions he ascribes to us are false and groundless,” Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes said. “These initiatives have been around for a long time, and consolidating all of this together into one business is something that didn’t just happen. It’s something we’ve been working on for a couple of years.”

Nielsen’s set-top data projects date back to Warner Amex’s QUBE system in the 1980s. More recently, the TV-ratings giant worked with Comcast to process data from the cable operator’s video-on-demand server data and to test addressable ads. Nielsen also worked withTiVo to establish a joint panel of TiVo subscribers whose digital-video-recorder set-top data Nielsen processed on a daily basis.

Nielsen DigitalPlus will use resources and information from several Nielsen businesses including: the television-measurement services of Nielsen Media Research; commercial-activity data from Nielsen Monitor Plus; retail and scanning information from A.C. Nielsen; and modeling and forecasting capabilities of Claritas, Spectra and BASES.

“The reason we’re pulling it together, branding it the way we did, is to make it clear to clients who to talk to and who’s working on this,” said Jed Meyer, senior vice president of Nielsen DigitalPlus.

“We’ve had it announced internally for over 18 months, [Nielsen Media president] Susan Whiting, had established a group that we called internally the MSO strategy group,” he added. “This is just the next evolution of that group.”

This is such a new area of research, according to Meyer, that Nielsen “thought the most appropriate way to go forward was to set up projects where we’d learn and our clients would learn.”