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Sunbeam Sues Nielsen For ‘Unlawful Conduct'

Sunbeam Television filed a complaint in federal court against Nielsen Media Research alleging that the ratings giant "violated federal and state antitrust laws, as well as Florida's Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, by unlawfully maintaining and perpetuating its monopoly in the TV-ratings market."

Sunbeam is owned by Ed Ansin, who made waves recently by initially saying he'd run local news on WHDH Boston instead of Jay Leno's new fall program. After going back and forth with NBC, WHDH later said it would air Jay.

Sunbeam claims that "television stations such as WSVN are left with no choice but to purchase Nielsen's ratings in order to market air time to advertisers. Sunbeam alleges that Nielsen has abused its monopoly position by charging artificially high prices, offering inferior and flawed ratings services in a take-it-or-leave-it basis, and engaging in exclusionary tactics to prevent competitors from gaining a foothold in the industry."

"We lost half our audience with LPMs," Ansin told B&C. "We havent been able to get them back. The whole market is devastated." 

The broadcaster filed its lawsuit in United States District Court in southern Florida. The suit claims that Nielsen's Local People Meters are not working. "Nielsen has abused its monopoly position by forcing on its customers poorly implemented data collection systems and statistically unsound sampling that have produced defective ratings data," the suit claims. "On October 1, 2008, over the objection of its television station customers in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market, Nielsen unilaterally replaced its traditional Meter-Diary data collection system with a technology known as Local People Meters ("LPMs"). Although Nielsen falsely and deceptively touts LPMs as an improved technology that provides accurate ratings data, in fact there are serious problems with LPMs that are well-known to Nielsen."

"This case is utterly without merit," said a Nielsen spokesperson. "The TV ratings we are providing to Miami are more accurate than any previous measurement of this market and our sample is representative of the Miami population. We believe that WSVN had other reasons for bringing this case than the ones stated in the complaint and we will be responding to it vigorously."

Sunbeam estimated that Nielsen's "unlawful conduct" has cost the station group "approximately $1 million per month in advertising revenues, and reduced the going concern value of WSVN by at least $100 million."

Michael Malone
Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.