Several New York City Council members Tuesday skewered Nielsen Media Research over next week’s launch of “Local People Meters” in the Big Apple, criticizing the ratings company for everything from allegedly dragging its feet in creating a task force on the methodology to lacking minorities on its management team.
During a hearing held by the council’s committee on consumer affairs, council members and representatives of Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of black and Hispanic groups, called for Nielsen to delay the deployment of its LPMs in New York and to submit to an outside independent audit of its methodology.
Council members and other critics are concerned that LPMs underrepresent TV viewing by minorities, a charge Nielsen claims isn’t true.
“I just think it’s ridiculous coming to us with this white hierarchy and thinking we have to trust all your analysis,” Councilman Charles Barron told Nielsen officials, including CEO Susan Whiting, who testified at the hearing. “You come here with all your white organization and you have the nerve not to cancel June 3.”
During her testimony, Whiting defended the LPMs, saying that the new sample in New York actually overrepresents Hispanics and African Americans. She cited an analysis of its March LPM data.
“The overall amount of viewing among African Americans and Latinos has remained constant,” Whiting said. “But, like all viewers, they are watching a more diverse array of content.”
She pointed out that cable networks such as Black Entertainment Television, which has come out in support of LPMs, and Spanish-language services like Telemundo have seen ratings increases with the new meters.
Despite the objections from the council’s committee, Whiting said the rollout of LPMs in New York, delayed for two months, will go forward June 3.
Not of that sat well with the councilmen. Barron said he was “appalled” by Nielsen’s plan to go ahead with the launch next week.
“We are not just going to patty-cake this operation,” he said. “June 3 should be out of the question.”
Barron and Councilmen Philip Reed and Hiram Monserrate also voiced displeasure that a task force on the measurement of black and Hispanic audiences -- which was announced April 6 by Whiting and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) -- has yet to be named.
Whiting said Nielsen was currently working with Rangel on creating the task force, but Monserrate called the proposed task force “window dressing and a farce.”
Harlem Rev. Jacques De Graff, part of Don’t Count Us Out, testified that his group had asked to participate in a task force “that has no members and has no chairs … This is not an issue of data, but of credibility.”
At one point, when asked by the committee, Whiting said, “There is no question” that Fox TV-stations group chairman Lachlan Murdoch has been supporting a public campaign against the meters.
Nielsen had submitted several newspaper articles to the council committee that alleged that Murdoch and his father, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch, are using minority groups as “puppets” against the LPMs, which may mean lower ratings for their Fox TV stations.
“I take offense at that,” Monserrate said. “I don’t know Mr. Murdoch.”
Monserrate and Barron are both sponsors of a council resolution calling for a delay in the LPM launch in New York.