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Nielsen Clears Hurdle in L.A.

Aug 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Nielsen Media Research appears to have won a pivotal battle in the war-if not the war itself-against its Local People Meter service, which critics say tends to undercount viewing by Hispanics and African Americans.

TelevisionWeek has learned that the television committee of the Media Rating Council, the research and audience measurement watchdog organization, voted July 30 in favor of conditional accreditation of Nielsen’s Los Angeles LPM sample. The MRC asked Nielsen for a plan to address a handful of issues raised by an Ernst & Young audit of the Los Angeles LPM sample.

“We expect to deliver that plan Monday,” Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said late last week, when he confirmed the action by the MRC, which had urged its members not to talk publicly about what happened at the July 30 meeting.

According to sources who insisted on not being quoted or identified, Nielsen likely will carry the word “conditional” on its accreditation until the scheduled annual audit of the meter-only sample in 2005, but the MRC vote amounts to full accreditation. Over the months Nielsen will return to the MRC periodically with updates on progress on the L.A. sample issues, which range from fault rates in mid-teen percentages to categorization of languages spoken in homes participating in the new meter-only sample.

But Nielsen is likely to be free within days to put the MRC seal of approval-a check mark symbol-on the data produced from the Los Angeles LPM sample as of this week. The dismantling of the old diary-meter sample in Los Angeles began last week.

And Nielsen will be wrapping the Los Angeles LPM sample into the National People Meter sample as scheduled on Aug. 30. New York and Chicago LPM samples are to be added Sept. 27 to the national sample, which is expected to total 10,000 homes by the time Atlanta goes to the LPM system in mid-2006.

That would be the swiftest accreditation yet for an LPM sample. Nielsen launched the first LPM service in 2002 in Boston but did not receive accreditation until several months later. The MRC withheld accreditation when Nielsen launched its LPM service in New York June 3 but is expected to reconsider accreditation, perhaps as early as late August.

No accreditation vote has been set in Chicago, where Nielsen rolled out the LPM service last Thursday. Public and political protest in the Windy City has been less strenuous than the pitched battles waged in New York, Los Angeles and Washington in an attempt to delay Nielsen’s LPM timetable, which calls for the top 10 markets to be switched to the LPM service by late 2006.

The opposition has been spearheaded by Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of advocacy groups and News Corp. News Corp. is the parent company of Fox Television Stations, which fired the first shot at Nielsen’s LPM plans last spring after seeing early LPM data in New York reflecting ratings losses of as much as 25 percent for ethnic-appeal programming aired on Fox-owned UPN stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Nielsen was asked by some of its clients, most notably Univision, to hold off until LPM samples settled down. Univision filed suit charging Nielsen with “unfair, unlawful and deceptive business practices” and asked for an injunction to delay the July 8 launch of LPM service in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Superior Court denied the Spanish-language network’s request for an injunction. A hearing on Nielsen’s petition for the court to toss out the broader Univision suit is set for Aug. 9.

Some sources said that the MRC’s Los Angeles vote-in which Univision and News Corp. are said to have participated-is a signal the industry is now, with some exceptions, ready to make the transition to the LPM service as the benchmark-with the caveat that Nielsen needs to improve performance in some areas.

Those sources said that the process has worked and has produced a better service than what would have evolved by now had Nielsen not had to roll back its timetable to tweak and defend its samples and methodology.

Others said that the strongest signal sent by the MRC’s July 30 vote is that Nielsen is once again in control of the process.