Nielsen Media Research and NetRatings have launched a combined Fusion database which merges information from their television and internet panels to allow programmers and advertisers to analyse the relationship between viewing and online usage.

The new service combines the Nielsen National People Meter sample of more than 30,000 respondents in the United States with the NetRatings Netview sample which tracks the internet usage of around the same number of homes and businesses. The two databases are linked by demographic characteristics.

It could be the first step towards an integrated single sample panel of television and internet usage. Nielsen is planning to install software meters using NetRatings technology on the laptops and personal computers of test homes installed with Nielsen People Meters. Assuming the test is successful, the company plans to deploy the meters across its panel in the 2007-2008 television season.

“At a time when the importance of the internet as an advertising vehicle continues to grow and expand with new streaming offerings, it’s particularly important to understand the interaction between these two media,” said Paul Donato, chief research officer at Nielsen Media Research.

“As streaming content becomes ubiquitous on the internet, the importance of a combined television and internet data set is critical for companies competing for the digital consumer,” added Mainak Mazumdar of NetRatings.

A study of data from earlier in the year suggested that heavy internet users tend to watch more television than lighter online users. It also suggested that broadcast and cable networks achieve higher ratings among those that visit their web sites, although the relationship differs by demographic and programme genre.

Nielsen Media Research is part of the VNU group. Its people meter audience estimates provide the commercial currency of the television advertising industry in the United States. NetRatings is also controlled by the VNU group.