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Nielsen Canadian Alliance Defended

Nielsen will respond to Sen. Charles Schumer's (D-N.Y.) specific concerns about the ratings service's agreement to help roll out more meters in Canada, but spokesmen for both Nielsen and Arbitron Inc. suggested that Schumer was operating on some bad information.

Schumer wrote Nielsen President Susan Whiting Monday to ask why Nielsen was rolling out passive audience meters in Canada while pushing ahead with its local people meter rollout in the U.S. despite criticisms it has high fault rates and undercounts minorities.

But Nielsen already has one answer for the Senator: Spokesman Jack Loftus says that the company's planned joint venture with BBM Canada is not "to develop and deploy BBM's advanced passive audience measurement system throughout Canada," as Schumer suggested, citing press reports. "That is not part of the deal," he told B&C.

Arbitron's Tom Mocarsky seconded that assessment. He suggested there may be some confusion between two separate roll-outs. BBM Canada is currently deploying Arbitron's portable people meters in Montreal and Quebec, testing them in parallel with push-button meters, but that is not part of the new proposed Nielsen/BBM venture.

The Nielsen venture, which is targeting Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Ontario and BBM's national ratings service, is actually slated to use Nielsen people meters and BBM's own push-button meters, not PPMs.

BBM does plan to expand that rollout to two other markets, Mocarsky says, at which time the PPMs would be a candidate for those, but they are not part of the Nielsen venture Schumer cites.

Ratings systems are not a case of either/or to begin with, points out Loftus. "We have always said we take a toolbox approach in which a number of methodologies, PPMs, local people meters, diaries, set-meters and set-top-box information may be necessary."

Nielsen is testing portable people meters--Loftus says it is not accurate to call them passive--in Philadelphia in tandem with Arbitron. It hopes to decide by first quarter next year whether or not to invest in a wider roll-out of the meters.