AGBNielsen, the WPP Group-owned research company, is understood to be threatening legal action against rival TNS for infringing a European patent for its audience measurement system.
The potential legal battle comes to light as uncertainty continues to surround the appointment of TNS/Arbi-tron to the £10m UK TV audience measurment contract (MW November 15).
It was thought the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) was going to take the contract away from Nielsen and hand it to TNS two weeks ago, but a formal decision has yet to be announced.
It is understood that Nielsen holds the patent for an audience measurement system that collects codes assigned to broadcast waves, which it claims is the same technology that TNS will use if it wins the BARB contract.
It is thought that the patent issue surrounds its set-top box rather than the portable people meters, which will be used to measure out-of-home viewing.
It has the patent in several European countries, thought to include the UK, and has the right to take legal action if it believes that the patent is being infringed. There is an ongoing appeal against the patent, which is being argued by a number of companies – including TNS – which is due to be heard in March.
It is understood BARB was unaware of the ongoing appeal or the potential battle at the start of the tender process.
A TNS spokesperson says: “We are surprised at this speculation which is misinformed and appears to us to be malicious as no contract has yet been awarded.” Nielsen declined to comment as Marketing Week went to press.
Meanwhile, further doubt has been cast over the accuracy of the PPM in the US, where operator Arbitron has delayed its roll-out following concerns that small sample sizes are not providing accurate data. Last year, Nielsen voiced similar concerns over the accuracy of data collected among 18- to 24-year-olds.
Rajar, the UK radio audience measurement body, is trialling the TNS PPM system in conjuction with BARB. It is not due to finish until the middle of next year.