Calm After the Nielsen Storm

The first week of TV ratings from Nielsen's local people meters (LPMs) in Los Angeles aren't doing much to quell complaints from activist groups like the Don't Count Us Out Coalition. But neither are they giving credence to accusations that Nielsen grossly undercounts minorities.

Media buyers and sellers say the ratings so far are largely as expected.

"We're seeing a little bit more share going to cable and away from [broadcast] network," says Sam Armando, vice president and media director at Starcom USA. "But a lot of it varies by daypart, and a lot of things that have been underrepresented for years are now coming out with slightly higher viewing."

No buyers are citing specific shows or networks as exemplifying the change in methodology. They are waiting a few weeks for patterns to be determined. But Adlink, the giant cable interconnect ad service, notices the big percentage gains by the small cable networks. And most in the ad biz say the broad pattern of higher viewership for cable holds for Spanish-language stations, too.

The LPM went live in Los Angeles on July 8 and has been in place in New York since June and in Boston since 2002. The L.A. version is running in tandem with the traditional diary/household meter it will completely replace on Aug. 4.

Nielsen kept the two systems operating to stem complaints that the LPM generates faulty data.

While the LPM ratings so far haven't spurred additional outcries to delay the deployment of the measurement system, Nielsen is hedging its bets by actively touting the methodology behind it."We're at full sample in Los Angeles, which is 800 homes," says Nielsen spokesperson Karen Gyimesi. "I am quite certain the sample is very sound and all the characteristics are in line with the universe."

But activist group Don't Count Us Out and Spanish-language network Univision, which filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to delay the L.A. launch, are concerned more about some fine points of Nielsen's methodology than about LPM ratings.

About 4% of the LPM sample for the week ended July 4, for example, consisted of Hispanics who speak only Spanish. That compares with 5% of the population in Los Angeles. More than 11% of the sample consists of Hispanics who speak mainly English, versus 8.7% of the market.

Nielsen weights its sample to correct for under- or over-represented demographics.

Don't Count Us Out and Univision have been joined by a growing number of supporters, including CBS, in calling for Nielsen to make improvements before rolling out the LPM to additional markets.

"We know [the LPM] is an improvement," says Alex Nogales, of Don't Count Us Out. "But the fact is that Nielsen has been undercounting minorities. So we need them to put their methodology under review. They have the Media Rating Council," he says, "but it doesn't have any teeth because it's made up of broadcasters. What we're talking about is objective oversight."