People Meter standoff

Jun 24, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Since Nielsen Media Research’s People Meters launched at the beginning of the May book in Boston, taking out household meters and eliminating sweeps, Boston’s major broadcast stations still won’t sign up. But they say that since the market is hot, it hasn’t been tough to sell without numbers.
The advertising community is learning to use the new currency of the People Meters because viewership is down as predicted.
“The second-quarter buys won’t be complete until June is complete; we’re looking at it daily,” said Janice Finkel-Greene, executive VP for local broadcast strategy at Initiative Media. “We’ve done a lot of analysis, and most demographics are off anywhere from 15 [percent] to 20 percent from where they would have been last year if everything remained the same.”
Kathy Crawford, executive VP/director of local broadcast at Initiative Media said this happened when networks shifted to the People Meters nationally. “It’s the same thing as going from the pound to the euro-they don’t look the same and don’t feel the same, but they have the same basis.”
Although demand is high and stations use their own historical data to sell, they must ultimately rely on the ad agencies who have the ratings numbers, and Ms. Finkel-Greene said Initiative’s buyer in Boston has a good relationship with stations. “We told them that we would be asking for compensatory makeup spots for under-delivery,” she said. “They anticipated we would do this.”
At Pro Media in Boston, Senior VP Tracie Chinetti said things have been “relatively calm” in the first market to have local People Meters. “The buyers all have the numbers, and we’re continuing to place demand on areas we’re always placing demand on,” Ms. Chinetti said. “We have the ratings, so they may not know what `West Wing’ is doing, but we do.”
While most people are buying third quarter now, fourth-quarter demand is usually heavier. “It may be more complicated buying fourth quarter,” Ms. Chinetti said. “But right now we’re not having any problems clearing what we want and clearing within the expectations we set for our clients. Even though they [stations] can’t use the ratings, they’ll have an idea. If I call and price it on a 3 and someone else calls and prices it on a 3 rating, they’ll know it’s in that area.”
Ed Goldman, general manager of Boston’s Viacom duopoly of CBS-owned WBZ-TV and UPN affiliate WSBK-TV, said negotiating without the numbers has been more of a challenge. “It’s been a little bit difficult because we’re not able to use any price points,” Mr. Goldman said. “People are not as understanding of the fact that Nielsen has changed currency. What advertisers are still dealing with mentally is they’re looking at People Meter numbers and probably comparing them to last year, and it’s an impossible comparison, because it’s the equivalent to comparing the euro to a franc. The media plans for advertising were established last fall. They’re dealing in cost per points that were established while the old currency was in effect.”
Mike Carson, general manager at Sunbeam-owned NBC affiliate WHDH-TV, said his station “hasn’t missed a beat.” “At first it was kind of odd, the first three weeks, because we had been so used to [ratings] as a daily reminder,” he said. “But now we don’t even think about it. We’re pricing our commercials based on supply and demand, and it seems to be just fine. We haven’t felt like it’s been an impediment to not have ratings.”
While the economy is good now, Ms. Crawford expects the stations will eventually pay for the service. “They could sign up for it [in] November if the marketplace is not as healthy as they think it’s going to be and they have to fight for every number. The only way to do it is to sign up for it,” Ms. Crawford said. “The picture continues to change because the Arbitron PPM is out there and the numbers are much higher there, and the stations like higher numbers.”
The Arbitron PPM is Arbitron’s own Portable People Meter, which is being tested in Philadelphia and compared to Nielsen’s household meter/diary data there. Last week, Arbitron reported that television ratings with its Portable People Meter for persons age 6+ were 57 percent higher than those reported by Nielsen Media Research. The highest ratings gains reported by the PPMs are for younger demos, especially under age 35.
Nielsen Media Research spokeswoman Karen Kratz said there are ongoing conversations with Boston’s major stations to sign up for the People Meters, and Nielsen continues to examine Arbitron’s test data. “In Boston we’ve launched it and it’s live, and we’re pleased with the data that’s coming out of it,” Ms. Kratz said.
Nielsen plans to launch local People Meters in nine more markets in the next three years. But if Boston’s major stations do not sign up, it may be hard to get those in nine more markets in the country to go along. Mr. Goldman said Nielsen had a new local rep in Boston who was planning to meet with stations and then canceled his trip, perhaps due to stations’ lack of interest and confidence in the technology. Some stations are being asked to pay double-digit increases in price, while ad agencies pay only a fraction of what stations are being charged.
“We don’t like the pricing model, it’s an exorbitant increase in price,” Mr. Goldman said. “They’re passing the cost on up front to us, and they’ll experience a large cost savings if they roll it out. So we will have funded them into this new business. We don’t think we should be funding the entire business for them.”
Mr. Goldman doesn’t think the technology is worth the price. He said the remote controls of the People Meter favors those who are mechanically inclined, and he heard the number of homes monitored on any given night is in the low 80 percent range, and it should be at least 90 percent.