D.C. Broadcasters Rip Nielsen’s ‘LPMs’

Four broadcasters Wednesday renewed their plea for Nielsen Media Research to delay the rollout of “Local People Meters” in Washington, D.C., next week.

Executives from Allbritton Communications Co., Gannett Television, Fox Television and Tribune Broadcasting Co. held a press-conference call to express their opposition to Nielsen’s June 2 launch of LPMs and to blast their data so far.

“We believe the numbers in Washington are wrong,” said Jerald Fritz, Allbritton’s senior vice president for legal and strategic affairs. “This is not ready for primetime yet.”

The broadcasters -- which own six TV stations in Washington, the No. 8-ranked DMA -- claimed that the so-called fault rates on the LPM system for minorities are astronomical, a charge the ratings company denied.

Nielsen is also deploying its controversial new LPM system in Philadelphia, the No. 4 DMA, on the same day as its rollout in Washington.

“We’ve been very reticent to publicly engage in this fray, but our frustration is so palpable, that’s why we’re on this call,” said Shaun Sheehan, VP of Tribune, which owns WBDC, a WB Television Network station in Washington.

The TV stations want Nielsen to hold off on the LPM launch until the new meters win accreditation from the Media Ratings Council. Not surprisingly, in contrast to those broadcasters, the largest cable operator in the Washington DMA, Comcast Corp., is fully supporting the LPM launch, which Nielsen is forging ahead with.

“We feel very strongly about the deployment of Local People Meters,” said Jonathan Sims, Comcast Spotlight’s VP of research. “No system’s perfect, but this one is a very strong system. The sample looks pretty good and, even at its worst, it’s much, much better than the system that’s in place today, which has to be gotten rid of immediately.”

Sims continued, “I look askance at any broadcast macro-statement that they’re making. The system they’re trying to hang onto is dead and obsolete, and just about everyone knows it.”

Nielsen has a scheduled a meeting with its clients in Washington Thursday on the LPMs, and at least 75 people are expected to be there. Officials from Allbritton, Tribune, Fox and Gannett indicated that they will attend the meeting, although they are not happy with the circumstances.

“They called this meeting and organized this meeting very late in the game, one week before the implementation,” said Fritz, whose company owns ABC affiliate WJLA and cable local-news network NewsChannel 8.

“We sort of know where this is going,” Fritz added. “We still want to sit down, as I said, with Nielsen to fix this problem. I’m not sure that having a publicity stunt or a PR campaign making us the ponies in a dog-and-pony show is particularly useful, but we are going to show up, we are going to point out these concerns and we are going to appeal to Nielsen to slow down and pause before they make this step in Washington.”

For the week ended May 15, LPM fault rates -- or the percentage of homes in a sample from which no usable data are collected -- for African Americans were 64% more than for non-African Americans, or 17.2% versus 10.6%, according to the four D.C. broadcasters.

In response to the charges the broadcasters raised on the press call, Nielsen issued its own statement.

The ratings company pointed out that fault rates in Washington are lower for the LPM sample than for set meters. For the first two weeks of May, according to Nielsen, the LPM fault rate for African Americans was 11.7% versus 17.3% for the set meters.

Sims conceded that LPM fault rates are definitely an issue, and one that Nielsen is trying to address.

He added, “Everything’s a context, and the fault rates in the metered-diary system are 50%. There are zero cells, where people don’t even fill out the diary.”

Nielsen also once again pointed out that its LPM sample in Washington has significantly more Latinos, Asians and African Americans than the old meter/diary system.

“Local People Meters are making Washington, D.C.’s local television ratings more accurate and more representative of the local population than ever before,” Nielsen said. “These electronic meters enable Nielsen Media Research to provide continuous audience measurement of what people of all demographic and ethnic groups are actually watching on television.”

The company continued, “Greater accuracy has brought changes in ratings, and we understand that it is hard for some companies to adapt to change. But it would be unfair to Washington, D.C., advertisers, viewers, competing programmers and other who benefit from more accurate ratings not to roll out this better measurement service.”

The LPM data does show African-American and Hispanic viewership rising for cable networks and Spanish-language stations, according to Nielsen.

Allbritton and the other Washington broadcasters maintained that they don’t want the government to step into the LPM fray.

“We are not seeking government regulation of Nielsen or the ratings process,” Fritz said. “We believe our industry can very well self-regulate. If that takes giving the MRC some teeth, then that’s what we’ll advocate.”

However, Fritz said, if legislation is what’s required to give the MRC “teeth,” then “if that’s what it takes, that’s what we would advocate.”

Again, Comcast blasted the Washington broadcasters.

“It’s time for them to wake up and grow up and stop holding onto a system that’s been biased and terribly flawed,” Sims said.