Black Nets Back LPMs

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In an interesting twist to an ongoing brouhaha, Black Entertainment Television and TV One — both of which target African-Americans — have publicly come out in support of the controversial rollout of Local People Meters, which have drawn an outcry from minority groups and criticism from broadcasters like News Corp.

In fact, the two networks are the first cable programmers to take a vocal stance backing Nielsen Media Research and its LPMs, which some analysts say will boost cable’s local ratings and multiply ad revenue.

“Quite frankly, we don’t understand why some broadcasters would oppose any method of truthfully tracking what viewers are and are not watching, regardless of their ethnic background,” BET president Debra Lee said in a prepared statement issued early last week. “Networks like BET could certainly benefit from information that depicts the true viewing patterns of African-American consumers.”

A few days after BET’s announcement, the startup TV One joined in the defense of LPMs.

In fact, TV One lauded BET for being first to publicly back Nielsen.

“All credit goes to BET for stepping up and raising the issue publicly from the cable point of view,” TV One president and CEO Johnathan Rodgers said. “Clearly the results from the People Meter tests show that more people — in our case, more African Americans — are watching ad-supported cable than was previously reported.”

Rodgers added that he has raised the LPM issue with the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

TV One is partially owned by Comcast Corp., which has been an outspoken proponent of the LPMs. Time Warner Cable and the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau are also supporting the meters.

But few programmers have taken a stance in favor of Nielsen in the current brouhaha.

While NBC Universal’s outlets in New York City — WNBC-TV and Telemundo’s WNJU-TV — have come out supporting the LPMs, there has been no sweeping statement either way from Spanish-language Telemundo’s corporate headquarters.

Neither Telemundo nor Univision officials could be reached for comment last week.

BET and TV One offered their endorsements as the flap over the meters continues, with Nielsen retaining several public-relations firms — including high-powered Robinson Lerer & Montgomery — and becoming more proactive in taking its case to the public and media.

The planned deployment of the LPMs — already operating in Boston — in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, has created a firestorm, with the loudest critics including News Corp., numerous Hispanic organizations, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a coalition of black and Hispanic groups called Don’t Count Us Out, and a variety of politicians, including U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.).

SHARPTON’S VIEW

Last week, the Rev. Al Sharpton showed up at Nielsen’s Manhattan headquarters to stage a protest.

BET, owned by Viacom Inc., defended the LPM methodology as providing more accurate ratings.

“We have always been concerned that the paper diary system for gathering local ratings was vulnerable to substantial inaccuracies; and that African-American households were under represented in Nielsen’s paper diary sample,” Lee said. “Nielsen already measures national ratings via the use of the People Meter technology. It makes sense to use modern methodology like LPMs to accurate measure viewership at the local level.”

Nielsen spokeswoman Anne Elliot called BET’s support of LPMs “wonderful.”

Hispanic groups and broadcasters claim that the LPMs under-represent blacks and Latino audiences, citing data that ratings for some broadcast shows popular with minorities have lost viewership when measured by the new meters. But Lee said that drop-off reflects the fact that in reality, some of this viewership is going to cable networks like BET.

In a white paper issued May 11, Nielsen compared March data from diaries and the new LPM system in New York. The data registered no difference in overall viewing levels by Latinos and African-Americans, but demonstrated that people of color are watching “a more diverse array of cable networks” with “significant increases for networks targeted toward African-American and Latino audiences, like BET, Telemundo and Telefutura, access cable channels and 85 other channels that report higher minority viewing levels,” Nielsen said.

BIG BET GAINS

For BET, total-day viewing for persons 18 and older increased from a 0.05 with metered diaries to a 0.14, up 180%, with LPMs, according to Nielsen.

At a press conference in early April with U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, Nielsen announced plans to form a task force on audience measurement of people of color, and to delay its LPM launch in New York from April to June 3. But a debate ensued about who was supposed to be recruiting task force members — Nielsen or Rangel.

The issue, “sort of a misunderstanding,” was resolved after Rangel and Nielsen CEO Susan Whiting met, according to Elliot.

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