Nielsen Media Research is expected to defend its Local People Meter system before a Senate subcommittee this Thursday, a week after rolling out the controversial new system here.
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) were the lawmakers who originally announced the hearing on Nielsen’s LPMs before the Senate Communications Subcommittee in Washington, D.C. Nielsen CEO Susan Whiting is among those scheduled to testify.
The session, if it goes off as planned, will come on the heels of Nielsen’s deployment of LPMs in Los Angeles last Thursday, despite continuing protests and complaints from minority groups.
In fact, controversy or not, Nielsen last week said it still plans to also proceed and launch LPMs in Chicago on Aug. 5 and in San Francisco Sept. 30. Nielsen, which claims its LPM system is more accurate than diaries, launched the new meters in New York City in June.
Spanish-language broadcaster Univision Communications Inc. had failed to get an injunction to block Nielsen from launching its LPM methodology in Los Angeles, clearing the way for last week’s launch.
Still, LPM critics were out in full force, trying to rally opposition to the devices, which some broadcasters and black and Hispanic groups claim undercount minority audiences. News Corp. and Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of black and Hispanic organizations that’s getting financial backing from Rupert Murdoch’s company, are among the major opponents of the system.
PR BLITZ ON
On the eve of the Los Angeles LPM launch, Don’t Count Us Out kept up its public-relations blitz with meetings in minority populated neighborhoods, a press conference on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall and a launch-day protest outside Nielsen’s Los Angeles offices on Sunset Boulevard.
The group also kept up the legislative pressure: Assemblyman Jerome Horton (D-Inglewood) is sponsoring a bill in the California legislature critical of Nielsen. The bill, urging a delay of the Los Angeles LPM implementation, was still in the introductory committee process as the technology launched last Thursday.
Horton stressed he is not recommending that the state regulate Nielsen, nor suggesting the government intercede to eliminate the company’s alleged monopoly on TV-ratings data.
“But I do believe in a higher level of responsibility [for Nielsen],” he said.
At last Wednesday’s press event, Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks vowed to bring an anti-Nielsen resolution before the full council. Such a resolution already failed to pass out of the information technology and general services subcommittee, where Parks was the only supporter of the issue.
LPM opponents stressed they agree that LPMs are superior to diaries for information gathering, but question the sample size and how Nielsen extrapolates the data.
“TV is the media that tells us who we are, what we are and what we’re worth,” said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Calling LPMs a technology shrouded in mystery and shadow, he called for an independent third party to review Nielsen’s methodology.
Actress Anne Marie Johnson implored networks to band together to create their own ratings tabulation system. “If we can put a rover on Mars, than the networks can create a system better than Nielsen,” she said, urging consumers to get involved by writing to networks to express support for ethnic-themed and staffed shows.
PAY GAP CITED
Jerry Velasco of Nosotros, an arts organization for Hispanics founded by actor Ricardo Montalban, negotiates contracts for union members who take Spanish-speaking parts and do voiceovers. He said the 6,000 performers covered by the Spanish-language contract of the Screen Actors Guild make one-third as much as their English-speaking counterparts.
That compensation will never rise if studios perceive the viewing numbers are not there, he said.
Last week, Nielsen said it will continue to operate both the old Meter/Diary system along with the new meters for a transitional period in the DMAs where it is deploying LPMs, as it has done in New York, to allow clients to adjust to the new system. For example, in Los Angeles Nielsen will continue to run the Meter/Diaries through the July sweeps period, ending Aug. 4. During the transition period, either set of data — from the LPMs or the Meter/Diaries — can be used commercially.