This sounds a lot like putting the foxes in charge of the hen house starting in September. The very idea that NBC Universal, Time Warner, News Corp/Fox, Viacom/MTV, CBS, Disney/ABC and Discovery are forming a consortium to challenge the dominant force in TV audience measurement gives rise to all sorts of scenarios. Can’t you just imagine this conversation happening among the moguls?

Jeff Zucker: “Les and Bob and Chase, I need a better number for my new show Mercy. NBC can’t get beat by Univision again.”
Les Moonves: “I’ll let you artificially boost that, if you give Mentalist the win for Thursday.”
Bob Iger: “If we do that, then I want to take Sunday night…”
Chase Carey: “Well then, considering the huge license fee we’re paying on House to NBCU, Jeff, I need to really triumph in that time slot.”

And so on… ad nauseum.

C’mon, these are the kind of con men who, if you ask them what time it is, you still have to check your watch. And at the same time make sure they’re not pickpocketing your wallet. They’ve always been adept at manipulating numbers. (Ain’t that right, all you net profit participants?) And don’t even get me started on the fact this is yet another example of these supposed competitors forming a cartel.

According to the Financial Times, the Big Media networks have roped in top advertisers like Procter & Gamble and AT&T and Unilever into their scheme. “The involvement of such big names highlights how urgently advertisers feel the need for better information to justify ads that run across multiple media platforms,” the FT writes, noting that media agencies GroupM, owned by WPP, and Starcom MediaVest are also joining. “People briefed on the plans expected the consortium to award contracts for measuring set-top box data and cross-platform viewers across TV and digital sources as early as the 4th quarter of this year.”

But TV insiders are telling me “there is no way on earth” these companies can launch a rival to Nielsen across three screens by September. “The cable MSOs have been talking about set top box data for ever and they’ve never done anything with it and can’t. It’s not standardized for processing it, and the ad agencies wont pay for it till they see what’s in it. Big Media wants new data for three screens too: TV, mobile and online. And what if they get it? They’re going to change the currency too? Give me a break. No way it can happen. For all Nielsen’s faults, at least it’s third party.”

So, after sparring unsuccessfully with Nielsen over the years, especially after it replaced print diaries with remote controls which led to allegations of undercounting, Big Media will now try to put the TV ratings leader out of business. Just because they can.