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LPM Delay Gets Mixed Review

Apr 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Some community activists and Fox station group executives are celebrating as a victory the delay until after the May sweeps of the rollout of the new Local People Meters TV ratings system in New York. However, the move by Nielsen Media Research has angered a number of top executives at area TV outlets.
They charge that Nielsen may have tainted the entire process by caving in to political pressure. The critics also believe that the high-pressure print and electronic media coverage directed attention to incomplete and in accurate data along with the technology involved, instead of to the sample of households chosen to replicate the makeup of the market.
The critics also charge that this will make it more difficult to recruit viewers to participate in the future and may have opened the door to additional political pressure, including efforts to influence future rating results. They also say that politicizing the process could make it more difficult to roll out new ratings technology elsewhere
One local TV veteran likened the advocacy campaign to “contaminating a potential jury pool” and said “the lawmakers clearly don’t understand the consequences of getting on the bandwagon.”
Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said Nielsen shares the concerns about sample contamination, but he said “We are doing everything we can to make sure the old sample stays up to snuff.”
Multiple efforts to get comment from News Corp. or the Fox TV Station Group or Lachlan Murdoch or others at Fox were all fruitless. They either claimed no knowledge or had no comment.
Fox’s critics say Fox bankrolled most if not all of the campaign that led to the decision to delay the LPM rollout, though the company seems to have tried to remain behind the scenes as much as possible.
Tampering Alleged
The critics charge that Fox may have violated Nielsen rules against clients trying to tamper with the sample with its publicity campaign that included newspaper ads, heavy coverage in the News. Corp-owned New York Post and on Fox-owned New York stations WNYW-TV and WWOR-TV; press conferences featuring politicians; and mass e-mailings to Nielsen. None of the ads or campaign materials disclose that Fox was a member of the Don’t Count Us Out Coalition and none listed Fox as paying for them.
The efforts included an automated telephone campaign in which the NAACP urged New Yorkers to “call Nielsen … and tell them we count too.”
“When there’s an injustice against our community we must act,” said the phone message. “That’s why you need to know that if the Nielsen company gets their way, some of our favorite TV shows could be canceled.
The Nielsen company is supposed to measure what we watch on TV, and now they’ll start using a flawed method in New York that will once again undercount us. That’s why the NAACP has called on Nielsen to stop and get their act together before they miscount us again.”
Taxing Resources
There has been talk that some minority members referred to the ad campaign when they rebuffed recruiters for Nielsen who wanted to add them to the sample.
Nielsen is now forced to maintain both the old and new samples for at least two more months, which some critics say could divert attention from fine-turning the new 800-home LPM sample.
Some TV research executives expressed concern that the campaign, which played on fears that younger ethnic viewers might lose their favorite shows, will lead to activist viewing by some who do join the sample just to influence the results toward certain kinds of shows.
“It’s going to tax Nielsen’s resources,” one client said.
The brokered deal to delay implementing the LPM’s until at least June 3 was announced by powerful New York Democratic Cong. Charles Rangel and Nielsen President and CEO Susan Whiting. They also announced the formation of an ongoing panel composed of community and industry representatives.
“We are glad to see Nielsen respond to community concerns regarding the accuracy of their new system. We want to emphasize that this is the beginning not the end of our involvement,” said a statement from Lorraine Cortes-V zquez, president of the Hispanic Federation, which helped organize the campaign in New York and is, as is Fox, a member of the Don’t Count Us Out Coalition.
Meanwhile, Univision is said to have talked to Nielsen about concerns, among them that the LPM sample in New York, while it over-represents African American and Hispanic viewers, includes too few large households that are Spanish-dominant Hispanic and include younger viewers.
“The Univision claim is a legitimate concern to Nielsen, and we are working on it,” Mr. Loftus said.
Fox is said to have complained there are too few English-dominant Hispanic homes in the new sample, a gripe that Mr. Loftus declared “bogus.”
Some look beyond New York to Los Angeles, where problems building the sample already prompted Nielsen to postpone the start-up date and wonder if the nation’s second-largest market, where the minority populations add up to a majority in the market, is too complex to ever be measured by LPMs.
“It’s a fair comment,” Mr. Loftus said. “If Nielsen succeeds in doing good work in New York, I think there won’t be that kind of impact on Los Angeles.”