Despite renewed protests from broadcasters, Nielsen Media Research this week plans to move ahead and launch its controversial Local People Meters in Washington, D.C.
“They insist on going forward,” said Jerald Fritz, senior vice president for legal and strategic affairs for Allbritton Communications Co. “It leaves us in a very precarious position … We’re faced with the reality of dealing with an unregulated monopoly.”
Nielsen, citing support from ad agencies and cable operators like Comcast Corp., is slated to roll out LPMs in both Washington and Philadelphia Thursday.
Last week, the ratings service gave a presentation on LPMs for its clients in Washington during a two and a half hour give-and-take meeting.
DELAY BID REBUFFED
A day earlier, executives from Allbritton, which owns ABC affiliate WJLA and cable’s NewsChannel 8, Gannett Television, Fox Television and Tribune Broadcasting Co. held a press-conference phone call to voice their complaints about the accuracy of the LPMs and to ask for a postponement of their launch.
The broadcasters, which own six TV stations in Washington, the No. 8 DMA, claim the so-called “fault rates” on the LPM system for minorities are astronomical — a charge the ratings company denies.
And those broadcasters said they still had the same concerns after seeing Nielsen’s presentation at last week’s meeting, which had about 100 attendees.
Duffy Dyer, general manager for Fox’s WTTG, said he was appreciative of Nielsen’s efforts to discuss the LPMs with clients like him.
“But at the end of the day, our concerns were not allayed,” Dyer said. “It [the LPM system] is just not ready.”
MRC APPROVAL SOUGHT
The TV stations want Nielsen to hold off on the LPM launch until the new meters win accreditation from the Media Ratings Council. In contrast, Spanish-language station WMDO and Comcast, the biggest cable operator in the Washington DMA, are supporting the immediate LPM launch.
“We feel very strongly about the deployment of Local People Meters,” said Jonathan Sims, Comcast Spotlight vice president of research. “No system’s perfect, but this one is a very strong system. The sample looks pretty good, and even at its worst, it’s much, much better than the system that’s in place today, which has to be gotten rid of immediately. I look askance at any broadcast macro-statement that they’re making. The system that they’re trying to hang on to is dead and obsolete, and just about everyone knows it.”
For the week ended May 15, LPM fault rates — or the percentage of homes in a sample from which no usable data is collected — for African-Americans were 64% more than for non-African-Americans, or 17.2% versus 10.6%, according to the four Washington broadcasters.
In response to the charges the broadcasters raised on the press call, Nielsen issued its own statement. Nielsen pointed out that fault rates in Washington are lower for the LPM sample than for set meters. Fault rates among African-Americans with LPMs in Washington were 11.6%, versus 16.8% for the metered-market sample, from April 25 to May 22, according to Nielsen. For Hispanics, the LPM fault rate was 13.7%, versus 17.4% for the metered-market. Total fault rates in D.C. were 8.1% for LPMs, compared with 10.7% for the metered-market.
Sims conceded that LPM fault rates are definitely an issue, and one that Nielsen is trying to address. He added, “Everything’s a context, and the fault rates in the metered-diary system are 50%. There are zero cells, where people don’t even fill out the diary.”
At the meeting, Nielsen said it was taking steps to alleviate the faulting issue, and the protesting broadcasters said they don’t think the LPMs should be deployed until Nielsen actually makes those corrective moves.
For its part, Nielsen stressed that its LPM sample in Washington has significantly more Latinos, Asians and African-Americans than the old metered/diary system.
“Local People Meters are making Washington, D.C.’s local television ratings more accurate and more representative of the local population than ever before,” Nielsen said in a statement.
“These electronic meters enable Nielsen Media Research to provide continuous audience measurement of what people of all demographic and ethnic groups are actually watching on television,” the ratings agency said. “Greater accuracy has brought changes in ratings and we understand it is hard for some companies to adapt to change. But it would be unfair to Washington, D.C., advertisers, viewers, competing programmers and other who benefit from more accurate ratings not to roll out this better measurement service.”
WHERE CABLE RISES
The LPM data does show African-American and Hispanic viewership rising for cable networks and Spanish-language stations, according to Nielsen.
Allbritton and the other Washington broadcasters maintained they don’t want the government to step into the LPM fray.
“We are not seeking government regulation of Nielsen or the ratings process,” Fritz said. “We believe our industry can very well self-regulate. If that takes giving the MRC some teeth, then that’s what we’ll advocate.”
Fritz did say that if legislation is required to give the MRC “teeth,” then “if that’s what it takes, that’s what we would advocate.”
Sims, in turn, said it was time for the broadcasters “to wake up and grow up and stop holding on to a system that’s been biased and terribly flawed.”