Nielsen, MSOs Eye Set-Top System

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The nation's largest cable operators are talking to Nielsen Media Research company about creating a new audience measuring system based on the sophisticated new technology in today's digital-cable set-tops.

Such a partnership could deliver a far more comprehensive profile of who is watching which cable channels and when—particularly smaller niche networks that aren't now measured by the ratings giant.

Cable operators involved in the discussions, including Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner, declined to give details. Cox Communications acknowledged conversations but says "we haven't made any decision."

Some ad agencies envisioned cable operators using new viewer data from digital set-tops to establish a competitor to Nielsen, which dominates the TV ratings business. But industry executives say cable operators are likely instead to bolster Nielsen's dominance, partnering with the ratings giant rather than competing with it.

For years, cable operators have discussed pooling their set-top data, generated by every click of the remote. But now they're negotiating with Nielsen to process, sell and, most importantly, certify the data.