N.Y. Braces for People Meters

Apr 5, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Nielsen Media Research is standing by plans to switch Thursday to Local People Meter measurement service in New York in the face of pressure and criticism from lawmakers, advocacy groups and even some clients.
“We’re still on target,” said Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus after a trip to Washington to meet with critics who have joined a chorus already complaining about separate issues. The growing outcry has gotten the attention of politicians from the nation’s capital to the New York City Council.
“There has been a lot of misleading information that has been deliberately put into the marketplace,” said Mr. Loftus. “You can create quite a misunderstanding by quoting accurate statistics.”
Among the bundle of issues:
* The wish of more than one network for Nielsen to delay the changeover to LPMs in New York until after the May sweeps, which starts April 29, to allow any discrepancies to be more effectively interpreted.
* The charge by Lachlan Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer of News Corp. and chairman of Fox Television Stations, that Nielsen is deploying the LPMs in New York “despite growing evidence that the measurement’s methodology is flawed and may undercount viewership by as much as 25 percent, particularly among young and minority viewers.”
Nielsen’s Mr. Loftus and at least two network researchers said the Fox position is based on data taken in February from an incomplete LPM sample. They said that in fact the new New York sample, which was very near the target level of 800 households last week, slightly overindexes Hispanic and African American homes.
* The argument by at least two networks and the National Latino Media Council that Nielsen should classify Latino viewers by country of birth, not language spoken in the home.
CBS and ABC shared the cost of an unconditional grant for research conducted by Rincon & Associates and commissioned by the National Latino Media Council. The umbrella group in February released the Latino Television Study, which concluded that Nielsen’s home-language measure is “unstable and inadequate as a measure to weight Latino television ratings.”
But the NLMC’s efforts received little attention until the group added Fox’s contention that potentially dramatic undercounts of key demographic groups loom. The NLMC’s position is also that such undercounts “can lead to premature cancellation of Latino-targeted programs, reluctance among executives to produce or air a promising new show, diminished employment opportunities for Latino actors and lost advertising revenues.”
That helped mobilize politicians. New York state legislators asked for regulatory reviews of Nielsen methodology. Two days earlier, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., both members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, joined Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., and Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, in asking Nielsen to “seek an external audit of the system.”
“I must say unequivocally that Nielsen’s audience measurement services do not undercount Latino viewers,” replied Nielsen President Susan Whiting in a letter that included information on how the knowledge gained over 12 years is being applied to “our research panels.”
“I also think it is important to understand that, through the introduction of Local People Meters … Nielsen Media Research is implementing the largest increases in its samples of African Americans and Hispanic Americans in the history of the television measurement service,” Ms. Whiting wrote.
She questioned the methodology of the study but said: “Nielsen is willing to meet with Rincon and the National Hispanic Media Council to review the findings and discuss ways we can work together.”
The public can “go to the Web site [Dontcountusout.com] and make an educated decision,” said Ed Dandridge, spokesman for Don’t Count Us Out.
Frankie Miranda of the Hispanic Federation, which organized last week’s protest staged by advocacy groups outside Nielsen’s Manhattan offices, said the federation is part of the Don’t Count Us Out/Queremos Ser Contados Federation, formed to protest Nielsen’s plan.
David Poltrack, the executive VP of research and planning for CBS and UPN, thinks a delay in the switchover in New York would help calm the situation.
“We have, from the onset, suggested to Nielsen that they wait until the full sample has operated for a reasonable amount of time before turning off the old sample,” said Mr. Poltrack. “The new sample is just now approaching the full 800 [household] level, and we haven’t really had a good period of comparative measurement of the two full samples. And so we feel it would be judicious of Nielsen to continue to run both samples through the May sweeps. That will give us an opportunity to look at the discrepancies in certain program areas and to try to find an explanation for them.”