With a high-profile endorsement and a ground-breaking partnership, Nielsen Media Research last week bolstered its effort to legitimize and win support for the new Local People Meters and their measurement of TV viewing by African-American and Hispanic viewers.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson — founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition — publicly came out in favor of LPMs, devices that sparked a firestorm of controversy and protests from minority groups earlier this year.
And Nielsen entered into an alliance with a Latino research institute to help improve measurement of Hispanic TV audiences. Nationally recognized Latino social scientists will evaluate and make recommendations regarding all aspects of the rating company’s audience measurement.
FOES NOT IMPRESSED
The research alliance, the first of its kind in Nielsen’s 54-year history, is with the William C. Velasquez Institute in Los Angeles. That’s the research and policy arm of the Southwest Voter Registration Project, the largest and oldest nonpartisan Latino voter-participation group in the United States.
Neither Nielsen’s partnership with the WCVI nor the Jackson endorsement made much headway with the group leading the criticism of LPMs — Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of black and Hispanic groups.
With financial support from News Corp., Don’t Count Us Out campaigned this summer against Nielsen’s launch of LPMs in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The coalition last week asked Jackson to back its proposal that Nielsen be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. It also charged that while the WCVI partnership “may lead to important improvements down the road, it does not excuse the damage being done to audiences of color right now.” Don’t Count Us Out said there’s evidence of LPMs underrepresenting black and Hispanic TV viewing in that “fault rates” — or Nielsen homes where no viewing data is being recorded — have been running higher for minority homes than for the total sample population.
Nielsen households with several TV sets — and with more people — tend to have higher fault rates, according to company spokesman Jack Loftus, who said African-American homes tend to skew that way.
Because Nielsen knows when a home is “faulting,” it contacts those households to find out why data isn’t being reported and tries to rectify the situation, he added “Homes do fault,” Loftus said. “We go back and try to fix what’s wrong.”
NEWS CORP. ROLE
A number of major broadcasters, including News Corp., and the coalition had charged LPMs were undercounting minority audiences, partly because some major broadcast shows were seeing viewership among people of color drop with that technology.
Loftus claimed Don’t Count Us Out is biased because it has received funding from News Corp., adding that officials from Rupert Murdoch’s company have said they were out to “destroy” Nielsen.
Officials from several cable networks aimed at African-Americans, including Black Entertainment Television and TV One, earlier this year came out in defense of the LPMs. They said the devices more accurately reflect minority viewing for smaller outlets like theirs.
Their support of Nielsen didn’t seem to pick up any steam among high-profile black opinion makers — until Jackson’s letter to Rainbow’s membership last week.
“We agree with our media leaders Bob Johnson of BET, Cathy Hughes of Radio One and Johnathan Rodgers of TV One: People Meter measurements prove that audiences of color — like viewers — are shifting their allegiance from big broadcast channels like News Corp.’s Fox Television to smaller channels and networks,” Jackson wrote in a letter to Rainbow members. “BET’s ratings, for example, more than doubled when measured by People Meters.”
In one remark, Jackson alluded to Don’t Count Us Out.
“Opponents of the People Meter technology end up safeguarding a handful of shows on major broadcast networks, while overlooking a broad range of alternative channels that are attracting growing audiences,” Jackson wrote. “We all want to be counted, but the count must be fair and accurate and inclusive, and as scientifically sound as possible.”
In turn, Don’t Count Us Out issued a statement saying it was disappointed with Jackson’s endorsement of LPMs, citing the higher fault rates for minority Nielsen households.
“It is the coalition’s belief that no system should be considered truly fair and accurate until fault rates are more or less equal across demographic groups,” the coalition said.
Nielsen will launch LPMs in San Francisco later this month, replacing the old meter/paper diary system.
Next year, LPMs will be introduced in the remaining Top 10 markets of Washington, Dallas, Detroit and Philadelphia, with Atlanta coming in 2006, according to Loftus.
As part of the WCVI Latino alliance, researchers will analyze system designs, sampling, recruitment and training at Nielsen, with that research team’s work coordinated by the ratings company and the institute.
The researchers include Max Castro, professor of sociology at Florida State University; Henry Flores, dean of the graduate school at St. Mary’s University; and Andrew Hernandez, professor of leadership at St. Mary’s.
“We look forward to working with Nielsen to address the dynamic changes in the market and to provide an objective, third-party evaluation of all aspects of the television ratings system,” Flores said in a statement. “This is a huge benefit to Latinos.”
Paul Lavrakas, vice president of methodological research, will lead the research initiative for Nielsen.
“The Willie C. Velasquez Institute will provide an avenue for the Latino community to work with Nielsen and help facilitate an enhanced understanding of the Latino community,” Antonio Gonzalez, president of the WCVI and the SVREP, said in a statement. “Everyone in the television business has heard of Nielsen, but very few people in the Latino community know Nielsen. Our new relationship is going to change that.”
This doesn’t wash with Don’t Count Us Out. The coalition said it was pleased about Nielsen’s partnership, saying it indicated the ratings service “recognizes” it has an issue fairly counting all audiences.
But the coalition called for Nielsen to suspend introduction of the LPM system “until all the problems can be addressed” and there is oversight from an independent authority.
Nielsen officials, however, trumpeted their news last week.
“Nielsen Media Research looks forward to building on this new strategic relationship with the William C. Velasquez Institute as well as with the SVREP,” Nielsen CEO Susan Whiting said in a statement. “I am also confident that our hands-on work with these highly respected researchers will greatly enhance Nielsen’s ability to more accurately measure the television-viewing behavior of a highly diverse and rapidly growing Latino community.”
Whiting also welcomed Jackson’s endorsement.
“It means a great deal to us that Rev. Jackson is standing up for what is right and fair,” she said.