Under the gun one more time, Nielsen Media Research capitulated and again delayed the launch of its controversial Local People Meters in a market.
At the 11th hour — following pleas from 17 broadcast groups and the Media Ratings Council — Nielsen last week postponed the deployment of LPMs in both Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, until the end of the month.
The LPM service, originally set to go live last Thursday, will now officially be rolled out in those two DMAs on June 30, Nielsen told clients in a brief memo last Wednesday. The postponement came one day before the scheduled deployment.
“This extension will allow for the comparison of demographic data from the May measurement period,” Nielsen said.
Last year Nielsen, under fire from broadcasters such as News Corp. and the coalition Don’t Count Us Out, put off its LPM deployment in New York City for two months, from April to June.
Similarly this year, the ratings service had met with stiff opposition from Washington, D.C.’s major TV stations over its slated LPM deployment.
Officials from Allbritton Communications Co., News Corp.’s Fox Television, Gannett Television and Tribune Broadcasting Co. — which collectively own six stations in Washington — last month held a press conference to voice their opposition to the quick LPM launch.
Complaining about the fault rates among minorities, the stations wanted Nielsen to push back the start date.
In addition, on the day of the press conference (May 25), more than a dozen broadcast groups wrote a letter to Nielsen requesting the LPM postponement. Those station groups included not only Tribune, Allbritton, Fox, Gannett and Tribune, but also Barrington Broadcasting Co., Belo Corp., CBS, Cox Television, Dispatch Broadcast Group, Emmis Communications, E.W. Scripps Co., Fisher Communications, Liberty Corp., LIN-TV, Media General Broadcast Group, NBC Universal Television Stations and Post-Newsweek Stations Inc.
During the press conference, the four D.C. broadcasters never mentioned the letter they and their cohorts had sent to Nielsen. The broadcasters put out a press release on their letter last week.
In its announcement Wednesday, Nielsen said it will extend the “preliminary period” for LPMs until the end of the month, when it will then discontinue the existing Metered Market service in those two cities and solely use LPM data.
In its missive last week, Nielsen reiterated its confidence in the LPM system, which has the support of Washington’s major cable operator, Comcast Corp.
“It is apparent that many of our clients in these markets require more time to understand the impact that this change in methodology will have on their businesses,” Nielsen said. “We see our LPM rollout schedule as part of our paramount duty to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information possible.
“Because we have no doubt that LPM technology is far superior to any existing alterative, we are anxious to establish it as the currency as soon as possible so that all users of this data will be able to take advantage of increased accuracy.”
The stations want Nielsen to wait until the MRC accredits the LPMs in Washington and Philadelphia before it launches them. So far, the MRC has fully accredited LPM service in Boston and San Francisco, and granted conditional accreditation in three other DMAs.
Officials at Comcast said they don’t object to Nielsen collecting data from both LPMs and the old meter/diary system for another month.
'IS THIS RATIONAL?’
“In and itself, there’s nothing wrong with having the side-by-side,” said Comcast Spotlight vice president of research Jonathan Sims.
“This by itself is a rational request on the part of broadcasters,” Sims said. “The question is, in the past, there have been a lot of irrational requests. And the question is: Is this rational leading to the irrational, or is this rational leading to rational discussions? I think that’s the big question in our minds.”
Last year Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of black and Hispanic groups, protested and prompted Nielsen to push back its LPM rollout in New York City by two months. The coalition last week reasserted its concerns about the accuracy of the new meters.
“The LPM is a flawed, inaccurate system which disproportionately undercounts minority viewers,” Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez, president of the Hispanic Federation and a founding member of Don’t Count Us Out, said in a prepared statement.
Another Don’t Count Us Out member, Richard Willis Jr., added: “We support the efforts and intense pressure mounted by the independent broadcasters’ group that helped bring this delay. However, we still stand strong that the only way to ensure that Nielsen is held accountable is through authoritative, independent oversight.”