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LPMs Proof Positive for Cable

Aug 8, 2005  •  Post A Comment

New data from Nielsen Media Research’s Local People Meters in six top markets shows ad-supported cable ratings spiking by as much as 80 percent from diary-generated ratings a year ago, while broadcast ratings were off by as much as 13 percent.

The new figures show that station groups that had reservations about the new system-notably Fox Television Stations-had good reason to worry. In addition, cable advertising sales executives, who have long claimed that Nielsen’s diary system undercounted cable’s viewers, may have a window of opportunity. It could mean higher ad sales for cable and might lead to higher rates.

In New York, cable ratings among viewers 18-plus rose 40 percent in July-a sweeps month-while broadcast viewing was off 1 percent. In other markets the shifts were more pronounced. Cable ratings rose 79 percent in Philadelphia, where broadcast ratings were down 11 percent.

The pattern was similar in other new LPM markets. In Chicago, cable ratings were up 47 percent and broadcast ratings fell 9 percent; in Los Angeles, cable ratings were up 39 percent and broadcast ratings were down 5 percent; in San Francisco, cable ratings were up 64 percent and broadcast ratings were down 13 percent; in Washington, cable ratings grew 58 percent and broadcast ratings slipped 12 percent.

Cable executives who claim that Nielsen’s diary system undercounted cable viewers have said that more accurate measurement would mean a bigger share of spot and local ad dollars.

To this point, however, LPM hasn’t brought a rush of new ad dollars to cable, said Larry Fischer, president of Time Warner Cable Advertising. Overall, the data has shown TV viewership down, and that’s driven money to other media, he said. “When planners see that, they run for the hills,” he said.

Maribeth Papuga, senior VP and director of local broadcast for MediaVest, said that while the LPMs put cable on common footing with broadcast stations for buyers, “We’re not necessarily going to say that cable is going to steal all the dollars.”

Ms. Papuga noted that in July, viewers are getting tired of reruns on the networks and know there is fresh programming on cable. “I don’t know that the buying community is just going to roll over and say we can expect these kinds of ratings” going forward, she said.

Because cable operators generally have only two minutes per hour to sell, there’s a limit to how much an advertiser can buy of cable’s highest-rated programs. And the higher numbers may lead to higher prices, which will cut into cable’s efficiency, she said.

The latest LPM figures have to be taken with a grain of salt, Mr. Fischer said, because of cable’s summer strength versus repeats on broadcast, but he added, “We’re not unhappy with how the year is going. We’re light-years ahead of how the broadcasters are doing.”

A spokesman for the Television Bureau of Advertising, which represents broadcast stations, said top executives were not available to comment. But the spokesman pointed out that the LPM figures include viewers who watch cable programming via satellite as well as those who watch on cable, and that those satellite viewers can’t be reached by local ads sold by cable systems.