Tech Industry

Nielsen ratings for TV on PCs

Microsoft and Nielsen Media Research are teaming up to survey how much TV people will watch on their PCs and to track Web-browsing habits.

Microsoft (MSFT) and Nielsen Media Research are teaming up to survey how much TV people will watch on their PCs.

The upcoming Windows 98 operating system, a consumer-oriented upgrade of Windows 95, will include a television tuner. To watch TV on a Win98 PC, users will have to buy a small adapter to connect their computers to a cable or satellite system or to a regular broadcast antenna.

Nielsen, a subsidiary of the Cognizant Corporation (CZT), and Microsoft will work together to devise a rating system for Windows and other convergence media that accounts for not only TV-watching habits but also Web-browsing habits as well, the companies announced today. The new system will run in the same homes as the traditional Nielsen TV rating system.

With the Windows 98 release in less than six months, at least one industry analyst doesn't think there will be much to count at first.

"[Watching TV on a PC] strikes me as a bit of a technical frivolity that won't find much application," said Dwight Davis of Summit Strategies. "I'm dubious about the need or demand for it right now."

If Windows 98 TV is to differentiate itself from normal TV, broadcasters will have to produce hybrid programs that link their shows to Web content. For example, Microsoft has demonstrated a children's science show that refers to information on an accompanying Web site and lets viewers use both media simultaneously.

Other than the demonstration samples, there has been no word of broadcasters stepping up to provide such content, however. Microsoft representatives were not immediately available for comment.

Other attempts to crack the PC-TV convergence market have been mixed at best. Top PC maker Compaq recently dropped its $5,000 PC Theater system. Gateway 2000 last week slashed prices by 25 percent on its Destination PC-TVs to "reaffirm" its commitment to the market.

On the other side of convergence, the WebTV Network online service, which delivers Internet access through television sets, had an uptick in sales over the holidays that led to service glitches. The Microsoft subsidiary estimated it had 250,000 subscribers by the end of 1997.

In addition to Windows 98 and WebTV, Microsoft is a major player in the cable infrastructure with its billion-dollar investment in Comcast and its agreement with Tele-Communications Incorporated to use the scaled-down Windows CE operating system in about half of TCI's digital cable boxes. The other half will use Sun Microsystems' Java technology. If all goes according to industry plans, such cable boxes will likely "morph" into TV-top computers, complete with email, Internet access, and video-on-demand, and eventually will receive digital television signals.

Windows 98 also will have the Internet Explorer browser tightly integrated into all aspects of the system, including the TV tuner. It remains unclear if the current antitrust case brought against Microsoft by the Justice Department will affect the release of Windows 98, although Microsoft has not wavered from its stated release plans.