News

Judge: Let LPMs Roll

7/04/2004 8:00 PM Eastern

A Los Angeles County judge July 1 declined to halt the rollout of Nielsen Media Research Inc.'s local people meters, stating opponents had not demonstrated that they would be irreparably harmed by the technology.

Attorneys for Univision Communications Inc. sought a preliminary injunction to stop the July 8 launch of the LPMs in the DMA, alleging that the Hispanic community is undercounted in the 800-home sample measured by the hardware.

Univision had also asked the court to bar Nielsen from making false claims based on the inaccurate data from the new meters, and to award the network damages based on “trade libel.” The company's claims are based on California state laws barring unfair business practices.

The same day local Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) sent a letter signed by seven other members of the House of Representatives to Nielsen CEO Susan Whiting expressing concern about the LPM rollout and posing a series of attendant questions.

The Congressional group wants a response no later than July 7, the day before the LPMs are slated for their Los Angeles launch.

During almost two hours of arguments on the injunction motion before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger, Univision attorney Patrick Lynch urged the judge to intercede in the case because “television is a public policy issue.”

According to Lynch, because the LPMs do not factor in the language spoken in the household, the new technology ignores a quarter of the Hispanic population in the Los Angeles region.

Nielsen attorney Larry Feldman countered that of all the vocal opponents to the LPMs and the ratings company's methodology, only Univision had filed suit.

He asserted that Univision, as a corporation, fared better in the ratings generated by the new measurement technology. The company only went to court when the ratings showed that its Los Angeles affiliates, including KMEX, were losing viewers among the coveted 18-to-34 female demographic to cable, he said.

According to Feldman, changing the methodology to suit Univision could hurt other networks, which have benefited from the new technology. For instance, ratings for Black Entertainment Television increased 150% because the hardware is more accurate than viewing diaries used in the past.

To win an injunction, Univision would have had to prove it would be immediately irreparably harmed by the LPM launch, and that the company would be successful in the trial to come on the merits of its argument.

Czuleger said Univision's claims of damage were “speculative.” The dispute needs a full trial, not just the “limited snapshot” of the issues he could get in motion pleadings, the judge said.

Univision's attorneys said they were disappointed in the outcome, but were not surprised by the ruling. They added that, given the holiday weekend, they would not attempt an appeal by the launch date. They will pursue a trial on the merits of their case.

In a prepared statement, officials from the ratings service said they were pleased: “Judge Czuleger specifically found no evidence that we undercount Latinos or any other demographic group. Blocking the introduction of local people meters would have withheld a better, more representative ratings system from the people of Los Angeles.”

Solis's letter to Whiting includes questions regarding minority representation in Nielsen's LPM sample household groups, the procedures used to train sample households on the LPM system, and what steps were taken to improve or reform the LPM system to address the different concerns raised by broadcasters, lawmakers, and community leaders.

In a prepared statement, Solis said: “Serious questions regarding the Nielsen local people meter system remain unanswered, risking the undercounting of millions of minority television viewers in Los Angeles.

I urge Nielsen to delay implementation of the local people meter in Los Angeles, one of the largest and most diverse television markets in the nation, until fair and accurate accounting of all television viewers is ensured,” she continued.

Solis's missive was also signed by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Solis and Dingell were joined by six other members of the committee: Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Albert Wynn (D-Md.), Gene Green (D-Texas) and Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

Nielsen officials said they had received the letter and “we will be responding in due course.”

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