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Nielsen Counters Uncercounting Claim

Ratings service Nielsen Media Research has launched a PR counter-offensive to the claim its local People Meters significantly  underreport minority broadcast viewing.

The company's PR firm Friday sent out some 500 DVD's to, among others, journalists, members of Congress, the NAACP, the National Hispanic Federation and other activist groups.

The DVD, entitled "Everyone Counts," explains the People Meter, talks about how the sample is collected and how respondents are trained to use it, and outlines Nielsen's ongoing effort to improve the system.

"We are making certain that all television audiences are fairly and accurately represented in our samples," said Nielsen President Susan Whiting in the cover letter, making the point that Nielsen is going to introduce the service in 10 markets over the next two years. The meters, she says, "provide a more precise, more consistent and more complete picture of the shifting viewing habits of today's increasingly diverse audiences."

The DVD is said to have been in the works for several weeks, but it arrived on desks Monday, the same day a coalition of minority groups and community activists are holding a rally on the steps of City Hall in Los Angeles at about 1 p.m. NYT to try and block the July rollout. They argue that the People Meters undercount minority broadcast viewing, particularly in urban areas. The result, they argue, will be that their civil rights will be "shortchanged with less programming, less economic opportunities and less influence in the media marketplace."

Nielsen counters that it is not significantly underreporting that viewing, but instead is more accurately reflecting the fact that those viewers are increasingly going to other places, like CNN or BET.

A similar protest by the "Don't Count Us Out" coalition in New York helped delay the planned April rollout of local People Meters in the nation's top market. L.A. is market number two.

Fox has been supportive of the protests, including helping pay for newspaper opposing the roll-out. Fox's younger and urban-targetted Fox and UPN stations could suffer from the kind of undercounting charged by the group.