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D.C. Latest Battle Zone for Nielsen

May 30, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Local broadcasters in Washington are organizing against the deployment of Local People Meters, which Nielsen Media Research is scheduled to launch officially June 2 in the nation’s capital.

The D.C. deployment represents the sixth of the top 10 TV markets Nielsen intends to convert to LPM technology by the end of 2006. LPMs already have debuted in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.

The protesting stations-Allbritton-owned ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (and NewsChannel 8), Gannett-owned CBS affiliate WUSA-TV, Fox-owned UPN station WDCA-TV and Fox station WTTG-TV and Tribune-owned WB affiliate WBDC-TV-issued a two-page statement to the press following a conference call last Wednesday among the local executives.

The protesting stations’ concern is focused on fault rates, or failure to provide usable data, among the same ethnic groups that have been the focus of complaints by some Nielsen clients and community groups since before Nielsen installed the LPM service in New York a year ago.

“We have asked that Nielsen work with us and agree not to utilize LPM ratings in Washington before they have been fully accredited by the [Media Rating Council]. If Nielsen is unwilling to abide by this reasonable request, we will seek other means, including legislation,” the stations said in their statement.

The June 2 conversion to the new meter-only LPM service-and the decommissioning of the old diary/meter service by Nielsen-is taking place “over the strong reservations of local broadcasters,” the statement said. It claimed the move was being made without having met “the minimum standards of the Media Rating Council,” the congressionally mandated ratings and research watchdog agency. “This flawed technology, unless corrected, will inexorably erode the economic base of local Washington stations and in so doing gravely harm the only free television service in the nation’s capital,” the statement said.

Nielsen reacted with a statement that said: “Local People Meters are making Washington, D.C.’s, local television ratings more accurate and more representative of the local population than ever before. These electronic meters enable Nielsen Media Research to provide continuous audience measurement of what people of all demographic and ethnic groups are actually watching on television. Our new sample is larger, with significantly more African American, Latino and Asian households than the Meter/Diary sample.”

Those three groups represent 23.5 percent, 6.6 percent and 6.5 percent of the Washington market, respectively.

Nielsen also said that from April 25 through May 22, a period that included the week cited by the stations, fault rates were lower in the new sample than in the old one. The overall fault rate from April 25 through May 22 in the LPM sample was 8.1 percent, vs. 10.7 percent in the old sample, a Nielsen spokeswoman said, adding that sign-on-to-sign-off viewing levels among blacks were up 26 percent.

Nielsen’s data shows that the fault rate among blacks in the LPM sample is 11.6 percent, down from 16.8 percent in the old sample. Among Hispanic homes in the new sample, the fault rate is 13.7 percent, down from 17.4 percent in the old sample.

“Greater accuracy has brought changes in ratings, and we understand that it is hard for some companies to adapt to change,” the Nielsen statement said.

Nielsen credited the improved fault rates in the Washington LPM sample (which has been running side by side with the old sample since April 7 and has been enlarged from 440 homes to 609 homes) to increased personal coaching and incentives. The number of black homes in the new sample has been increased to 146 (versus 113 in the old sample) and the number of Hispanic homes is up to 51 (from 23). The new sample is “right in line with the universe” in Washington, Nielsen said.

Jerald Fritz, Allbritton’s senior VP for legal and strategic affairs, said that not until “we see the side-by-side demos” will the stations know whether the fault rates among the various demographic groups have indeed improved.

He said the Washington stations, which banded together first to convince Nielsen to delay its original LPM rollout date of May 1, want Nielsen to gain accreditation from the MRC before its new service becomes the only service for any market.

“We don’t want to see the federal government involved in the ratings business,” Mr. Fritz said. “All we are saying is that perhaps we need Congress to say Nielsen has to have accreditation before it moves forward.”

Meanwhile, Nielsen notified clients that it is on schedule in implementing initiatives announced in February in response to complaints and changes in the business and technology.

Among the major points:

  • Video-on-demand viewing measurement will be implemented in three steps throughout 2006 under a plan that includes an accelerated rollout of the Active/Passive meter.

  • The 34-member board that will steer the client-driven $2.5 million research and development fund is nearly complete and will hold its first meeting in New York June 8. The board is now known as the Council for Research Excellence.