Nielsen Says It Plans to Proceed Despite Widespread Criticism

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NEW YORK ( -- CBS, the Viacom-owned broadcast network, just added its voice to the numerous parties seeking the postponement of Nielsen Media Research's local people meters,
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which are due to launch tomorrow in the New York market.

CBS issued a statement this afternoon requesting that Nielsen delay the launch of electronic people meters in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago "until they have addressed the current shortcomings of these new services as identified by the Media Ratings Council."

Validity questioned
The Media Ratings Council is a nonprofit industry association established to ensure that measurement services are valid. The Media Ratings Council on May 28 said it would not accredit the new service -- which electronically measures viewing -- until Nielsen addressed matters of "non-compliance" with the council's "Minimum Standards for Media Rating Research." Nielsen says it is working with the Media Ratings Council to discuss the technical questions that were raised.

Nielsen pushing ahead
Nielsen Media Research, a unit of VNU, said today it is pushing ahead with people meters in New York tomorrow and in Los Angeles next month, despite also facing the threat of potential legal action by a coalition of critics dubbed "Don't Count Us Out."

While CBS said it is a supporter of local people meters, the broadcaster didn't think Nielsen ought to stick to what CBS calls an "overly aggressive self-imposed time table for this conversion in the face of increasing evidence that these new services have not yet met industry and community standards."

A CBS spokesman explained that while the broadcaster had certainly given interviews about its views on the matter, this was the first official corporate statement on its position.

'Fundamentally flawed'
Yesterday Univision Communications, which operates Hispanic channel Univision, said it was astounded that Nielsen had decided to proceed with the implementation of the service, "despite overwhelming evidence that the sample is fundamentally flawed."

Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus, responding to the coalition's threat to take up legal action against Nielsen, said: "Anybody is free to say whatever they want. No one has filed anything yet. We'll wait and see what's filed."

In a statement issued yesterday, Nielsen said the current diary system of recording consumers' viewing habits will remain available to its customers alongside data from the electronic people meters. Ad agencies and TV stations may work with either system for the next three months. Media buying agencies have also previously stated their support for the electronic system of measurement.

Ethnic undercounting
The "Don't Count Us Out" coalition -- backed by minority groups, elected officials and News Corp.'s Fox Network -- said it is now taking the battle to California, where people meters are due to launch July 8. In a call today with the press, the coalition detailed its chief complaint with local people meters: that they under-count African-American and Latino households, thus potentially reducing ad revenue flowing to media outlets that target such groups.

The coalition believes that Nielsen is operating in violation of U.S. and Californian antitrust laws. In a statement issued this afternoon, the coalition said it "will begin taking steps to pursue a civil suit under the California Unfair Business Practices law. ... We will pursue a civil suit for the fraudulent behavior Nielsen is perpetrating against the public."

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