Despite objections from a variety of broadcasters in Washington, D.C., Nielsen Media Research plans to move ahead with its deployment of its controversial Local People Meters in that market on June 2.
Nielsen will also be launching LPMs in Philadelphia, the No. 4-ranked DMA, the same day as it rolls them out in Washington, which ranks No. 8.
A spokeswoman for the ratings service, Karen Gyimesi, said Nielsen has set up a meeting this Thursday with its clients in the nation’s capital to discuss outstanding questions relating to the new meters.
Nielsen maintains that its LPMs produce viewership data that’s much more accurate than the old set meters and diaries, despite continued claims that the new system undercounts minorities, a charge levied by broadcasters such as News Corp.’s Fox, and by Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of black and Hispanic groups.
Earlier this month, Nielsen released preliminary LPM viewership data from Washington. It claimed the data showed that the new system more accurately represented the local population in that DMA, starting with the sample.
During the week of May 2, the LPM sample had 609 homes, versus 440 for the set meters in Washington. In addition, the number of African-American households in the LPM sample, compared to set meters, increased to 146 from 113, while the number of Latino households increased to 51 from 23. The number of Asian-American homes rose to 34 from 15.
Several broadcasters immediately disputed the findings and claims that Nielsen made in its progress report.
TV stations said they were taken by surprise by the four-page progress report Nielsen sent out, which talked about initial data from the LPMs.
The LPMs found that TV viewing was up in key demographics, and that the number of people watching TV among African-American audiences in the LPM sample was higher than in measurements with the old set meters from May 2004.
The progress report also said that fault rates for black and Hispanics in the LPM group were lower than the old set meters.
Officials from Fox and Allbritton Communications Co., which have stations in Washington, blasted Nielsen, claiming in the past they’d unsuccessfully sought a group sit-down with the ratings provider.
“Without even the courtesy of providing it to us — and after then pointedly rejecting our request to meet — Nielsen slops one week’s worth of data and then draws some outrageous conclusions based on information that they won’t provide to us,” said Jerald Fritz, Allbritton’s senior vice president of legal and strategic affairs. “They have all these demo breakouts, and we’re not supposed to get demo breakdown for a month and a half. This system is not even close to being ready for commercial deployment.”
Nielsen’s LPM deployment has been controversial, and local broadcasters in the Washington DMA are especially concerned. Allbritton owns ABC affiliate WJLA there.
Nielsen claimed it wanted to issue a progress report because rivals have been circulating inaccurate information about its LPM data to Washington lawmakers.
Fritz and several Fox officials claimed that, despite numbers cited in Nielsen’s report, fault rates in the LPM sample for African Americans and Latinos are very high, and that household numbers are down with the new LPM technology.
“The reality is there continues to be problems,” said Tom Herwitz, president of station operations for the Fox Television Stations.
Duffy Dyer, general manager of Fox’s WTTG, said that in addition to high fault rates, there is a disparity in the HUT [households using television] between the LPM and set-meter samples in Washington.
According to Gyimesi, while HUT levels are down, “persons viewing” levels have increased, as they have in other LPM markets. The shows that the LPMs are in fact “capturing more demographic viewing,” she said.
Nielsen is continuing to try to find ways to cut down on the fault rates, she added.
The Washington broadcasters want Nielsen to wait until the Media Ratings Council accredits the LPMs before Nielsen deploys them in additional markets.
“We have urged Nielsen not to foist this half-baked system on viewers and advertisers and broadcasters and cable operators until the MRC can accredit it,” Fritz said.
Despite the complaints from broadcasters, several ad agencies said they welcome the deployment of the LPMs in Washington.
Susan Nathan, senior vice president and director of media knowledge for Universal McCann, said she hopes Nielsen doesn’t let the TV stations delay the launch of the LPMs in Washington.
“They’re a much more accurate way of measuring television,” Nathan said. “Diaries are horrible. It’s not possible to measure television anymore using diaries. It’s just not.”
In fact, Nathan wishes Nielsen had a plan of action to deploy LPMs beyond the Top 10 markets.
Kathy Crawford, Mindshare’s president of local broadcast, also spoke up on behalf of the LPMs.
“It’s a more-accurate system,” she said. “Whether the stations are happy with it or not is not the issue.
“They’ve been a long time in coming. It’s a fait accompli, no matter what the complaints are. Nielsen is not going to put it off, so we need to buckle down and deal with it.”
Officials at Comcast Corp., the major cable operator in Washington, couldn’t be reached for comment last week about the LPM rollout in the capital. But in the past, the MSO has voiced its support for LPMs.
WHICH NETS GAINING?
According to Nielsen, LPMs in Washington, D.C., indicated that African-Americans are viewing more cable programming than the old measuring system indicated, with channels like USA Network and Lifetime Television seeing big gains.
“African-Americans in the LPM sample are watching more cable programming than was reported in the set-meter sample,” the Nielsen report said.
In particular, USA, Bravo, Animal Planet and Lifetime saw their numbers soar among black audiences with LPMs.
In primetime ratings for black households, Animal Planet was up 113%, from a 0.15 with set meters to a 0.32 with LPMs. Bravo was up 213%, from a 0.08 to a 0.25.
Lifetime was up 112%, from a 1.37 to a 2.90, while USA was up 128%, from a 1.46 to a 3.33. Black Entertainment Television was up 26%, from a 1.44 to a 1.82.
For the 18-to-34 audience, total-day viewing for more than 40 TV stations and cable networks was higher in the LPM sample than in the set-meter sample, including for Spanish-language Univision’s WMDO.