Boston stations dropping Nielsen

Apr 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

History is being made in Boston this week as Nielsen launches People Meters in 600 homes, making the sixth-largest market the first in the country to consign household meters and sweeps diaries to the past.
And Boston TV stations are making some history of their own this week-they will cease subscribing to Nielsen Media Research as of April 25, the first day of May sweeps.
Stations in Boston, one of the most competitive news markets in the country, are boycotting Nielsen because they claim the People Meters are not accurate and underreport HUT levels, demos and ratings by as much as 20 percent. The only companies signing up for the service are local cable companies and networks-AT&T Media Services, New England Cable News and New England Sports Network.
Since Viacom is a major client of Nielsen, some area stations were expecting CBS-owned WBZ-TV to “cave in,” as some termed it, on the issue last week. But WBZ General Manager Ed Goldman, who also runs UPN affiliate WSBK-TV in the market, said the stations are not signing up for People Meters.
“We are as adamant about digging our heels on this thing and delaying this as much as anybody else in town,” Mr. Goldman said. “We don’t believe in the methodology. We’re not happy with the way it works. I’m not even sure that cable [ratings] increase. I think everybody is devalued in every way. All ships drop with the tide.” He reiterated the belief that People Meters give the perception that there are fewer viewers than in the past.
Kathy Crawford, executive VP and director of local broadcast at Initiative Media, said the ratings currency will change with this new system, and adjustments will be made for the lower ratings numbers. “If there was 100 rating points before and there’s 85 ratings points today, that 85 is the same as the 100 was,” Ms. Crawford said. “You just have to adjust your thinking.”
Jim Sullivan, VP and general manager of the market’s AT&T Media Services, which also operates the Boston Interconnect, said People Meters provide more accurate demo data than diaries. “We don’t know if this is perfect methodology, but we think this is a substantial step forward,” Mr. Sullivan said. “An electronic measuring system is more accurate than paper and pencil.”
At ABC affiliate WCVB-TV, General Manager Paul La Camera said his station is ready to deal with not subscribing to Nielsen ratings.
“We’re prepared for this insofar as it’s been a long time coming. We and the ad agencies are prepared,” he said. “We have full confidence that the advertising community recognizes and will continue to respect the great standing and success of this television station.”
Both Mr. La Camera and Mr. Goldman said Arbitron gave them presentations on its Portable People Meter service, which currently is being tested in Philadelphia. Arbitron’s pager-sized meters can be taken anywhere, unlike Nielsen’s.
“If you look at the comparison for the month of February, you find that the Arbitron system shows an actual increase in viewership,” Mr. Goldman said. “We’re holding out to see what happens with Arbitron and Nielsen. There was some talk of them having conversations about a merging of systems.
Nielsen paid Arbitron for the rights to see its Philadelphia data and has an option to join Arbitron in a commercial deployment of the Arbitron Portable People Meter. Nielsen, if it chooses to, can market the television portion of the data gleaned from the Philadelphia test, which began Jan. 3. It involves 1,500 people and measures results for 47 radio stations, 10 TV stations and 20 cable networks.
“We’re very enthused-[Arbitron] came in and made a presentation, and we were very taken with the technology,” Mr. La Camera said. “It finally answers the issues of out-of-home viewing. It’s a longer-term development. What we’d like is Nielsen and Arbitron to get together and blend their technologies. We would welcome a system that enhances the process, but our continuing belief is that Nielsen People Meters do not do that.”
According to a recent Arbitron report on the second phase of its Philadelphia test, during the February sweeps the Arbitron Portable People Meter showed a viewership increase among broadcast and cable households and across all demos.
Arbitron spokesman Thom Mocarsky said the company hopes to form a joint venture with Nielsen by the middle of this year that would fund distribution of the Arbitron Portable People Meter to an additional 1,500 people in Philadelphia. Arbitron would look to expand to three more top markets in 2003.
Nielsen’s senior VP of strategic and business development Ken Wollenberg said Nielsen sees “potential” with the Arbitron system. “We have to see. There is a lot of homework to be done, as with any new technology,” Mr. Wollenberg said. “Arbitron’s work with [its] Portable People Meter began about 10 years ago. What’s exciting about [Nielsen] local People Meters is it’s the here and now.” He said Nielsen People Meters have been in use to measure network ratings for 15 years.
Mr. Wollenberg said Nielsen People Meters are not as difficult to use as Boston station managers claim. He said if a viewer doesn’t change the channel for 70 minutes, a light will flash requiring the viewer to push a button marked “OK” to tell the meter the viewer is still watching. If the viewer changes the channel, the light will flash, and the viewer must push the same button to indicate he is watching.
Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said ad agencies have already signed up for the Boston service, adding they like the fact that viewers have to tell the meter they are still watching TV every 70 minutes. “That’s one of the reason why buyers and sellers have confidence in the data-because people are logging in and logging out when they’re watching.”