Nielsen Plays Defense

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Following an audit being leaked to the press, Nielsen Media Research Thursday defended itself by issuing a five-page interim report on how is it trying to fix the problems that were identified in its “Local People Meter” system in New York.

Nielsen was responding to issues raised by the Media Ratings Council and to the findings of a critical Ernst & Young LLP study on the new LPM system that was leaked to the Los Angeles Times earlierthis week.

Out of 85 categories, four were tagged by the MRC, Nielsen said.

The first related to quality control in terms of identifying channel-lineup changes due to cable rebuilds. The audit found that 15 of 602 cable sample homes were affected by rebuilds. Of those 15, the audit found that five hadn’t been contacted -- despite numerous attempts by Nielsen -- during the prescribed 60-day period.

Four of those homes had no change in channel lineup, and the fifth still hasn’t been successfully contacted, according to Nielsen.

The second issue related to race identification in the LPM sample, with a discrepancy in two out of 30 homes audited.

“In both cases, this was due to differences in the way different people in the household reported their race,” Nielsen said. “Racial identification is a complex issue for many American families, particularly mixed-race households, and we are working with the MRC on an alternative way to ask this question.”

The third issue related to a discrepancy in ethnic identification in two out of 27 homes.

“In one case, Nielsen’s interviewer mistook a Brazilian household for Argentinean -- an error we will correct through intensified training of field staff,” Nielsen said. “In the other household, a change in an answer by the owner-renter failed to be recorded by Nielsen’s representative.”

The fourth issue had to do with incomplete documentation, and the final problem related to higher-than-normal fault rates -- the percentage of homes with communications errors, unplugged meters or improper use of the meter. At one point, the fault rate temporarily hit 25%, compared with an overall average of 16%.

“Some of this may have been due to the active campaign against Nielsen in communities of color,” Nielsen said. “We have added nine field representatives to the New York market to stabilize the fault rates at ordinary levels. Since late May, fault rates have been well within target levels.”

Nielsen added that the MRC audit report “said nothing” about undercounting persons of color, about flaws in the LPM technology and about delaying the rollout of the meters.

The ratings service said it has asked the MRC to convene another accreditation meeting for mid-August, “at which point we will have addressed all of the items raised.”

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