Nielsen to Run LPM and Diaries in Tandem

NEW YORK Top-rated network CBS on Wednesday joined Univision in calling for Nielsen Media Research to slow down the rollout of its controversial local people meters until the service passes accreditation by the Media Rating Council.

Nielsen said it will turn on its people meter TV ratings service as planned on June 3. But the company, owned by Adweek Magazines parent VNU, will not immediately shut down the current meter/diary system. Instead, Nielsen will continue to operate the older service in parallel with the new offering for three months.

During that time, Nielsen clients may use either set of ratings to buy and sell commercial time, which could make negotiations between stations and media buyers confusing.

“Nielsen’s continued adherence to an overly aggressive, self-imposed timetable for this conversion, in the face of the increasing evidence that these new services do not yet meet industry and community standards, can only be detrimental to its eventual effectiveness,” CBS said in a statement.

Late last week, the Media Rating Council, which audits and accredits ratings services, declined to accredit the New York LPM ratings service. The TV Committee of the MRC didn’t specify its reasons for denying accreditation except to say that the service did not meet minimum reporting standards and other performance issues.

Nielsen said it will be meeting with the MRC to address the industry organization’s concerns. In the past, Nielsen has introduced new services without accreditation, as it did in Boston in 2002, the company’s first local people meter market.

Since April, Nielsen has been under attack from Fox Television and Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of black and Hispanic political and community leaders who claim that the LPM service undercounts minorities. Nielsen has countered that its local people meters, which have been used to measure network audiences since 1987, are more accurate than the current meter/diary system and that the LPM service shows minority viewing is dispersed among more outlets, particularly cable.

Nielsen said when the LPM sample goes live, the existing diary information will also be available so that “there are two currencies in the marketplace,” said Jack Loftus, senior vp of communications. “The industry can decide what numbers it wants to use.” Loftus said that Nielsen will discontinue the meter diary sample Sept. 2. “The reaction from most reasonable people in the industry has been favorable,” Loftus said. “Univision and Fox are against it. I think buyers will gravitate toward the LPMs, but stations such as Fox are perfectly capable of going to advertisers and selling whatever the numbers they want.”

After an aggressive campaign to discredit the LPM service by Don’t Count Us Out, Nielsen elected to delay the launch of the LPM service in New York until June 3 from its original launch date of April 8.

Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, representing Don’t Count Us Out, on Wednesday said his group would seek a meeting with California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and pursue a civil suit for unfair business practice against Nielsen under California’s Unfair Competition statutes.

“We have to pursue a legal remedy,” Nogales said. “We are late in New York because we thought that the lack of accreditation would bring Nielsen to the table. We miscalculated their arrogance. But in Los Angeles, we’re going to stop them.”

Nogales declined to state what parties are funding the coalition’s advertising and legal endeavors, though he did acknowledge that Fox broadcasting “is working closely with us. As they’ve lost the most viewership [according to the LPMs], it would be silly of them to sit on the sidelines.”

Nielsen has been using the time to launch its own public relations offensive, testifying before the New York City Council, participating on several industry panels, meeting with representatives of African-American and Latino groups, and conferring with its various media and advertising agency clients. Nielsen also published a white paper and hired a public relations firm. An industry task force, which was announced when Nielsen delayed the launch of the LPM, has yet to be formed.

Nielsen last week picked up the support of NAACP, and last month BET sided with the LPM.

Still unsatisfied with Nielsen’s response, Don’t Count Us Out has taken its fight to Los Angeles and Chicago, where Nielsen plans to introduce the LPM service on July 8 and Aug. 5.

Don’t Count Us Out today breaks a broadcast TV and spot cable campaign in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., the coalition said. Nielsen plans to launch people meter service in New York on Thursday and in Los Angeles next month.

Starting with footage from a nature program, the 30-second “Pull the Plug” spot uses a standard political ad format with pull quotes and headlines of allegations made against Nielsen in stories run by various newspapers. “Is Nielsen going to pull the plug on the shows we watch? It might.” Supporting print ads are also expected to run this week.

This story updates an item posted yesterday with news that the services will run in tandem.