Local Meters Face New Foes

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CBS and Tribune Broadcasting joined the chorus against Local People Meters last week, as Nielsen Media Research went ahead and deployed the controversial new measurement service in New York City.

As part of the continuing brouhaha over LPMs, Nielsen came out fighting, raising the issue of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. backing one of the major critics of the new meters, the coalition of black and Hispanic groups called Don’t Count Us Out.

Nielsen accused Don’t Count Us Out, and its anti-LPM print ads, of being part of “a campaign of inaccuracies and distortions … clearly financed by certain corporate interests.”

But now Fox parent News Corp. is no longer the only broadcaster publicly urging a delay of LPM rollouts.

LPM SCORECARD

CBS and Tribune Broadcasting, which owns Superstation WGN and WPIX-TV in New York, last week both issued statements criticizing Nielsen for launching the LPMs without accreditation from the Media Ratings Council.

Univision has also come out against the rollout of LPMs, which, according to critics, undercount minority TV viewing.

Ironically, one of CBS’s corporate cousins at Viacom Inc., Black Entertainment Television, is one of three African-American-centric cable networks that have come out in support of LPMs. BET claims the meters more accurately track viewership to smaller cable outlets.

TV One and MBC Network also support the new ratings mechanism.

Late last month, the MRC declined to accredit Nielsen LPMs, but Nielsen opted to go ahead and launch the service anyway.

In a statement, Tribune Broadcasting president Patrick Mullen charged Nielsen’s decision to move forward with the implementation of LPMs “without first securing the approval of the Media Research Council is unwise and unsound.”

In an attempted compromise, Nielsen is continuing to run its old Meter/Diary system simultaneously with LPMs for three months, with clients free to use whichever set of data they want on a commercial basis.

That move by Nielsen also drew Tribune’s criticism.

“Nielsen’s decision to utilize two distinctly different ratings systems simultaneously in New York City will serve to only confuse viewers, advertisers and station operators alike,” Mullen said. “This decision also seems like a tacit admission by Nielsen that it, too, remains unsure of the accuracy of data generated by the Local People Meter service.”

Said CBS: “Nielsen’s continued adherence to an overly aggressive, self-imposed timetable for this conversion — in the face of the increasing evidence that these new services do not yet meet industry and community standards — can only be detrimental to its eventual effectiveness.”

CITY POLS SPEAK

Last week, four New York City councilmen held a press conference outside Nielsen Media Research’s headquarters to “denounce” the LPM rollout, with one council member urging Nielsen homes to send their meters back to the ratings service.

Don’t Count Us Out also threatened to pursue legal action against Nielsen over the launch of the controversial meters.

“This is a defining moment” in how minority TV viewership is measured well into the future, and “we can’t afford to let it go,” said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which is part of Don’t Count Us Out.

Don’t Count Us Out is considering lodging a civil suit against Nielsen under California’s Unfair Business Practice law, which is a consumer protection statute, and possibly pursuing a federal antitrust suit and civil fraud suit as well, Nogales said.

“We feel we have very solid grounds,” he said, charging, “They’re abusing the public trust.”

In Manhattan, the council members, lead by Hiram Monserrate, appeared and called for a halt to the deployment of the LPMs. Monserrate is co-chair of the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

“Our motives are very simple: We want our people counted,” Monserrate said.

Councilman Larry Seabrook also urged households that have Nielsen meters to take them out and send them back to the rating service, and not continue “to be part of a perpetrated fraud” against the people.

“All I can say to Nielsen is shame on you, shame on you for using your 'tricknology’ against the deceived people in America,” Seabrook said.

Two other councilmen, Charles Barron and Joel Rivera, also spoke and denounced the LPM launch tomorrow. “This is racism at its rawest,” Barron said. “Nielsen should be ashamed of itself.”

FEAR FOR SHOWS

The councilmen said they are concerned that if ratings drop for broadcast shows that are popular with minorities with LPMs, those shows will lose advertisers and get cancelled.

Nielsen said it has met with more than 100 community and political leaders and “conclusively demonstrated to them that African Americans and Latinos are fully represented in our local and national People Meter samples.”

Monserrate denied that he or anyone else has been used or influenced by outsiders.

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