AT&T Signs On For People Meter Testing In Boston

AT&T Broadband has signed up as the first multiyear subscriber to Nielsen Media Research's planned People Meter ratings service in Boston, Nielsen announced last Wednesday.

Although the People Meter service won't officially launch in the market until 2002, the ratings giant said it would provide its Boston clients with "demonstration data" from its new 420-household sample starting in May. Thus, AT&T Broadband will get overnight demographic reports on Boston viewership on a daily basis.

Nielsen CEO John Dimling said the researcher's sample would expand to 600 TV homes in August.

"We believe that our advertisers deserve the most accurate methodology available, and we are in active pursuit of that goal," AT&T Media Services Boston vice president and general manager James Sullivan said in a prepared statement.

MediaOne Group Inc. in Boston had widely been expected to sign up for the local People Meter service prior to its merger with AT&T Broadband.

Until now, Nielsen's local demographic ratings were compiled through a combination of its long-running set-tuning meter system and diaries. The latter have been widely criticized as flawed, archaic and unreliable by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau and others.

Buyers such as TN Media Inc. senior vice president Howard Nass have predicted that Boston's television stations might balk at signing up for the new local People Meters, since the data are expected to boost cable viewership estimates at broadcasters' expense.

For comparison purposes, Nielsen will supply its clients with both meter and diary results and the new People Meter data during the transition period.

Shortly after the announcement that AT&T had become Nielsen's first local People Meter subscriber in Boston, AT&T Media Services senior vice president Judi Heady praised the research firm's test.

"It's too early to tell how that will impact the [audience] numbers," she said. "But anything that'll report cable audiences more accurately is of value."