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Nielsen To Monitor DirecTV

Seeking to boost ad sales, DirecTV Inc. can now keep tabs on viewing on ad-supported networks carried on its DBS system. DirecTV has partnered with Nielsen Media Research to measure ratings for the satellite company's 11.5 million subscribers.

DirecTV claims to be the first cable or DBS operator to have its audience tabulated by Nielsen. The company needs ratings to compete with broadcast networks, cable networks and syndicators for national ad dollars, says Vice President of Ad Sales Kirk Kopic.

DirecTV's ratings will represent "clusters," or groups of networks that have similar viewers, instead of tracking individual networks. Lifetime and Food Network fall into the women's cluster, for example, and Bloomberg Television and Fox News Channel are in the news category.

DirecTV's ad time, handled by Sony Pictures Television since 1999, is sold in clusters.

DirecTV has been lobbying Nielsen to measure its audiences for nearly two years. Six months ago, the companies agreed to forge ahead, but Nielsen needed to increase its representation in DirecTV homes. Previously, out of about 5,000 Nielsen homes, 200 were DirecTV subscribers, Kopic said. That number is up to 500, which he calls "a reasonable percentage" of DirecTV's market share. This summer, Nielsen will also begin to break out DBS homes in its local-market ratings.