Judge Rules Against Univision; Los Angeles Rollout Can Proceed

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A Superior Court judge in Los Angeles yesterday denied Univision Communications's request to block the rollout of Nielsen Media research's local people meters in Los Angeles.
Univision alleged Nielsen's controversial new people meter technology undercounts Hispanic audiences.

Nielsen is looking to replace its current paper-based method of tracking audience viewership with an electronic system known as the local people meter in major markets, including Los Angeles. the system is already in place in Boston and New York.

Flawed and inaccurate
Univision Communications, which operates Univision and Telefutura Television Groups, alleged that Nielsen's controversial new electronic audience measurement system is flawed and inaccurately represents the multicultural community in the Southern California metropolitan area. Univision, the country's largest Spanish-language TV company, sought an injunction that would stop Nielsen from proceeding with the planned July 8 launch of the Los Angeles people meter system.

People meters are a new computerized technology designed to replace the old paper diary records that Nielsen has long used to produce U.S. TV program viewership ratings. The ratings, which are used to set the price of advertising, also play a major role in the survival or demise of specific programs, and are crucially important to advertising and media-buying agencies as well as other companies involved in the financing, production and distribution of TV content.

Superior Court Judge J. Stephan Czuleger ruling left open the possibility that Univision could continue with its request for a permanent injunction and Univision in a release said it would do so.

'Press ahead' with the suit
"We are disappointed with today's ruling, but continue to believe strongly in the merits of our lawsuit," Univision said in the statement, adding that it supports people meters but has concerns about Nielsen's sampling and methodologies. Univision said it "will press ahead with [the] lawsuit and diligently work to ensure that reasonable and appropriate modifications are adopted."

Nielsen in its own statement said, "The evidence we presented demonstrated clearly that the electronic people meter is a more reliable and complete way to measure TV viewing than handwritten paper diaries."

Widespread criticism
Univision has not been alone in its criticism of Nielsen's People Meter technology. News Corp's Fox Network and local Los Angeles politicians have also weighed in on the debate, while other industry bodies such as the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the National Association of Broadcasters have urged Nielsen to delay implementation until the People Meter technology is refined further.

In New York, the people meter debate is causing chaos at advertising agencies whose executives say they aren't quite sure which system is providing the most accurate TV viewership metrics.

Although an official body -- the Media Ratings Council -- has been set up to monitor audience measurement systems, it has yet to accredit Nielsen's people meter for use in the New York market. Meanwhile, media agencies continue to buy their airtime using paper diary data as they await the council's conclusions.

'Unstable data'
One agency executive said, "We feel the Nielsen people meter [for New York] is providing unstable data," and pointed out that news shows were registering wild people meter ratings swings from one night to the next

Another agency executive said his company was using people meter data to negotiate with TV stations because people meter ratings were showing lower viewership levels than the paper diary system.

One broadcast network executive disagreed saying that people meter data was providing a much more accurate ratings picture that showed viewing had increased in prime time and decreased in other dayparts. The executive attributed that change to the fact that viewers are required to key in numbers every eight minutes to show they are still present with people meters. According to this network executive, that doesn't always happen at busy periods of the day such as morning and early evening, when viewers are multi-tasking. Thus it reflects lower viewing rates at such times.


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