Nielsen Rival Courts MSOs

New York -- A start-up ratings service that plans to use audience data from set-tops made its pitch to ad-research officials Wednesday, with a game plan that includes having cable operators become profit participants in the venture.

Florida real-estate developer and erinMedia owner Frank Maggio also announced, during a session at an Advertising Research Foundation conference here, that he hired Len Finelli, a veteran of rival Nielsen Media Research’s parent. Finelli is the former chief financial officer for VNU Business Information services and former executive vice president of business development for VNU USA.

Finelli, as a CFO, was retained to work with cable operators and to establish Maggio Media Research, MMR, according to Finelli, as well as to help build a $50 million “war chest.”

Maggio’s erinMedia has done trials with cable operators, collecting data from set-tops on TV viewing. He described his strategy as trying “to subvert the dominant paradigm,” referring to Nielsen Media Research.

Maggio added that “in order to get the ball rolling” for an ongoing ratings service, he’s committed to offer cable operators a 50% share of erinMedia’s profits in exchange for data from their set-tops.

“It would not be a controlling interest -- it would just be a profit incentive,” said Maggio, who has an antitrust lawsuit pending against Nielsen.

Nielsen declined to comment Wednesday, but Maggio’s plans drew some criticism from a panel after his presentation, speakers on which argued, among other things, that collecting TV-viewership data from cable set-tops only represents a portion of total U.S. TV homes.

In an interview after his presentation, Maggio said he would like to take his venture public in the next two years, and exploring that option will be one of Finelli’s duties.

Maggio is also looking to launch an interactive game-show network, ReacTV, this summer. During the conference, he said at least one cable operator agreed to carry the service, but he declined to say which one it was after the session.

ReacTV combines interactive TV with a simulcast Internet component. The network incorporates a remote control with a Wi-Fi connection, and viewers can win money by answering questions about the ads they see.