Meters Take Bite Out of Big Apple

Nielsen Media Research’s new "Local People Meter" can’t seem to avoid controversy.

The first look at the local people meter’s (LPM) performance in New York, the nation’s largest TV market market, in its first few nights shows why the device is courting trouble. 
Compared directly to the traditional Nielsen diary, the LPMs show  ratings decreases for all the New York TV stations in some time periods.

For instance, Univision-owned WTXV’s late newscast posted ratings decreases of 30% or more in the first nights after Nielsen Media Research went "live" with the New York local people meter. That could mean losing as much as $500 per 30-second-spot in ad revenue, said one station insider. With 24 30's per half hour, that's $12,000 gone for one show.

Even before the New York launch June 3, Univsion complained loudly that Nielsen’s new ratings service would hurt its ad sales. Based on initial results in New York and local test data, Univision sued in Los Angeles to stop Nielsen from launching the service there on July 8. Univision charges that both the LPM samples undercount young Hispanic Americans and large Hispanic families.

Nielsen stands by the meters, saying that they do not undercount minorities but rather better show the other media they are now increasingly turning to.

In addition to Univision, the two Fox stations in the market-WWOR and WNYW-have some of the steepest rating drops under the new system. Ratings are down from 10% to 40% in key revenue-producing time periods, compared to diaries.

Tribune’s WPIX has recorded some big declines as well, while WABC, WCBS and WNBC have seen smaller drops.

The impact was less severe for cable. LPM test data for the month of May shows that 12 cable networks seen in New York had higher prime time ratings compared to the old method, while 44 networks showed small declines. The biggest gainers were Lifetime and Court TV, while ESPN and Nickelodeon were the two biggest losers.

For broadcasters, Fox especially, the day the LPM launched in New York was a rude awakening. Fox-owned WWOR’s 10 p.m. newscast scored a 2.4 household rating and a 4 share, down 40% from the rating indicated by the NSI.

Fox executives are worried that the declines could cost the company tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue in New York, hundreds of millions if the LPM expands to the top-10 TV markets over the next two years, as planned. That’s why Fox’s parent, News Corp., has waged an aggressive campaign to delay the local people meter. Fox claims the system in New York undercounts overall minority viewership in New York by 25%.

Despite the flaws, firms are currently making ad buys based on the new LPM numbers in New York. “I think everybody knows that it’s fundamentally a more accurate audience measurement service,” says Maribeth Papuga, director of local broadcast for big New York ad buyer MediaVest. “It does change the way you buy the market.”