Nielsen Delays D.C., Philly 'LPMs'

After intense pressure from local broadcasters, Nielsen Media Research said it will delay launching its new "Local People Meter" ratings system in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia until the end of June, saying that the move will give it more time to explain the impact of the change in technology, which it continues to support.

The LPMs were slated to be introduced June 2. 

Local stations and media companies have been pressuring Nielsen to postpone the launch until the systems received full approval from the Media Ratings Council, which oversees the ratings company's systems.

The news comes after 17 broadcast station groups banded together to pressure Nielsen Media Research to halt its rollout of LPMs until they are accredited by the MRC.

In a letter to Nielsen chief executive Susan Whiting, the group, led by Tribune Broadcasting President Pat Mullen, urged Nielsen to postpone its LPM deployment until the Media Ratings Council, which oversees the company's ratings services, gives full accreditation to the system.

They also want Nielsen to obtain MRC approval before introducing LPMs to other markets. Atlanta, Dallas and Detroit are scheduled to convert to the service later this year.

Nielsen did not comment on possible delays in future markets.

"Accurate and reliable viewing data are the bedrock of the television agency," Mullen said in the letter, which was co-signed by the other 16 station groups. "A reliable gauge of television viewing is essential to the credibility and viability of our industry, and to our ability to compete."

Among the criticisms of the LPM system are that ratings for minorities and younger viewers have declined and fault rates (viewers not responding at all) have increased.

While they say they support new technology to improve ratings, the station groups cautioned: "We believe LPM, and any new technology, as implemented and deployed must prove its reliability." In the case of LPMs, though, they said, "that proof should be obtained before it is launched in additional markets."

So far, the MRC has granted full accreditation to two LPM markets--Boston and San Francisco--with the LPMs in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles yet to receive full approval.

Last week, four Washington, D.C., station owners also publicly called for Nielsen to wait until the MRC accredits the market's LPM system. They said the MRC will not even evaluate the Washington D.C. system until late September.

In a letter to clients Wednesday, Nielsen said: "It is apparent that many of our clients in these markets require more time to understand the impact that this change in methodology will have on their businesses.

"We see our LPM rollout schedule as part of our paramount duty to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information possible. Because we have no doubt that LPM technology is far superior to any existing alternative, we are anxious to establish it as the currency as soon as possible so that all users of the data will be able to take advantage of increased accuracy"

"I welcome the delay", said Mullen, "but I'm disappointed Nielsen did not respond to the concerns expressed by broadcasters. They are basically saying that they are giving us time to get used to it. With all due respect, we understand it pretty well. We are looking for them to fix the problems they have yet been unable to fix.

"I hope we get some constructive conversations going that help us address some of these issues."

"Sometimes even monopolies do the right thing for a month," said Jerald Fritz, senior VP with Allbritton Communications, which owns WJLA Washington, one of the four D.C. stations to initially complain.

Fritz said he wanted to clarify that the stations are not looking for government intervention from either the FCC or FTC, but rather for Congress to give the industry-backed Media Ratings Council it created back in the 1960's more authority.

Washington and Philadelphia stations will continue to use the set-top meter ratings service until June 30. After that, Nielsen says LPMs will become the ratings currency in those markets.