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Personal tallying

Nielsen Media Research took another step on the path to finding a way to measure viewing in the era of digital television. Last week, it announced an agreement in principle with personal video-recorder maker ReplayTV under which the companies would develop software to tally viewing of recorded programs in Replay homes.

Currently, Nielsen's peoplemeters measure recording of programs by traditional videocassette recorders and credit programs as watched in homes where the show is merely recorded. The peoplemeter doesn't measure playback of recorded shows.

And currently, peoplemeters can't monitor recording or playback of personal video recorders, digital devices that automatically record viewers' favorite programs; some, like Replay, have the means of eliminating commercials during playback.

If PVRs take off in the market, the implications for advertisers are numerous. "Basically, it renders the idea of program share of audience obsolete," says one TV research executive. Advertisers pay a premium for network spots that air throughout the country at the same time. Massive time shifting disrupts such patterns.

Then there's the commercial-skip capability built into Replay. The company agreed to stop promoting that feature in exchange for an investment by some of the networks. But a Replay spokesman said the capability still remains; it just won't show up in advertising.

Nielsen is conducting several other tests for measuring TV viewing in the digital age, including a test of its active/passive meter, which measures program codes, not channels. The company will soon begin a test in homes where personal computers and TVs are linked to interact with each other.