Nielsen eyeing NPD's game-data monopoly

World's largest research company considers tracking game sales--data currently mined solely by the NPD Group.

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The Nielsen ratings have long been the gold standard for broadcasters who were looking to measure viewership of TV and cable programming. But until the company announced an alliance with Activision last April, its data was peripheral to the game industry.

Today, Reuters reported that Nielsen's owner, VNU, is considering a frontal attack on the game industry's primary tracker of games sales--the NPD Group. Although NPD tallies do not include the country's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, the company still has a near-monopoly on game retail information. NPD's weekly and monthly reports prompt volleys of e-mails from analysts who pick their stats apart and from publishers who spin said numbers in their favor.

Would Nielsen have better luck getting Wal-Mart to release its own video game sales stats? Would Nielsen's new tracking service usurp the position currently held by the NPD Group? And how serious is VNU? "We're looking at this opportunity...I would say, pretty aggressively," Michael Dowling, general manager of Nielsen Interactive Entertainment, told Reuters.

Nielsen already has a foothold in the industry based on a new service in development with Activision. The service is designed to track gamer response to in-game advertising, logo placement, and other manifestations of branding.

Dowling told Reuters that Nielsen might, in addition to collecting sales information, offer the industry "other custom services" and "in-depth sales data" that would indicate to publishers the most effective and efficient ways to market games.

Whether or not the game industry would embrace a new provider of data or whether NPD's turf is, in fact, vulnerable, is open to speculation. Industry analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities is calling it a real horse race. "There is always room for another source of data," says Pachter. However, he was less certain of how the industry would respond. "Nielsen has some brand recognition and respect and will likely be a formidable competitor, but I don't know how the industry will react." Pricing may be the key. "If there is price competition--and Nielsen can immediately compete on price," says Pachter, "my guess is that the industry will love it."

GameSpot will keep its eyes on this developing story.

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