Sunbeam's Ansin Again in the Spotlight

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Four weeks after announcing WHDH Boston would debut a primetime newscast in place of the new Jay Leno program on NBC, Sunbeam TV president Ed Ansin is making news again.

Ansin has leveled a $300 million lawsuit against Nielsen, saying the ratings giant holds a monopoly, and the Local People Meters it introduced to Miami in October 2008 have gravely undercounted viewers at Sunbeam's WSVN, a Fox affiliate.

"We lost half our young audience when Nielsen introduced Local People Meters," Ansin told B&C Thursday. "We haven't been able to get them back since."

A Nielsen spokesperson defended the LPMs and said Sunbeam's charges are baseless. "This case is utterly without merit," said the 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."

Ansin was unsure what the "other reasons" suggestion referred to. "I can't imagine what they're getting at," he said.

The protests started in Miami as soon as the LPMs were official October 2. "The good news is we're still selling product," WSVN Executive Vice President/General Manager Robert Leider told B&C at the time. "The bad news is a 4 [rating] becomes a 1.8. It just doesn't make sense to us."

Numerous station owners and managers have protested Nielsen's LPMs, saying their viewership--and thus, revenue--is vastly underestimated. When they kicked off in Cleveland in August, WKYC issued a letter to Nielsen citing "deep concerns" about its new ratings system, which typically draws from a wider pool of participants and relies on electronic measurement, not paper diaries.

"Everybody in the industry knows the problems with Nielsen, but they're far more severe in Miami," says Ansin. "They'll talk to you forever and tell you nothing's wrong. But a whole litany of things are wrong."

The suit claims that 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." Ansin says the LPMs are costing WSVN $1 million a month in lost revenue, and they've knocked $100 million off the station's value.

On April 13, Ansin reached a détente with NBC over Leno and agreed to air the rookie show come fall; he was reluctant to talk about that flap, saying only "there was a resolution with NBC, and I can't comment further."

Time will tell how the Nielsen spat plays out.

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.