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Local People Meter Launch To Spell New Beginning

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The April 8 start of Nielsen Media Research's Local People Meter in New York—the largest U.S. TV market—could signal the end of business as usual for local media buying.

"It has been a long time waiting to get a better research method for local markets," said Anne Elkins, svp, director of local broadcast at Grey Global Group's MediaCom in New York. "Our buyers need more accurate data than diaries and set-tops. They need continuous measurements. I don't want to rely on sweeps periods any longer."

Elkins predicted that sweeps, which features jacked-up programming in an effort to sweeten a ratings book that influences ad rates, eventually would fall to LPMs' daily ratings. "Intuitively, the buyer knows that June is lower than May," she said. "But there has never been substantiation. Now, we'll be able to buy on the reality."

Nielsen plans to expand the electronic logging system beyond the Boston test market to Los Angeles and Chicago by year's end and to the Top 10 markets by 2006. Last week, Nielsen said that LPM's introduction in Los Angeles would be delayed, probably until after the May sweeps. The initiative would double the national sample from 5,000 to nearly 10,000 households.

The new data will be harder to argue against, as it eliminates the human element of manual diary entry. LPMs utilize a user-identifying remote control and scan station selection every three minutes to obtain ratings.

The sample size per major market will rise from 500 to 800 households, with more black and Hispanic viewers. "The industry wanted more sophisticated measurement tools and granular levels of data," said Jack Loftus, svp of communications at Nielsen in New York, a unit of Adweek parent VNU. "Overnight demos may give a competitive advantage to local television."

That appears to be borne out by the Boston-market numbers, said Jane Bowman, senior director of marketing and research at Comcast Spotlight in Boston. "The LPM … demonstrated the value of cable to new advertisers," she said. "When the new numbers came in, we saw more fast-food, automotive and movie business."

Jonathan Sims, vp of research at Comcast Spotlight, said a comparison of Nielsen meter-diary measurements and LPMs showed marked discrepancies. In February 2002, for instance, LPMs showed that cable ratings should rise from a 31 to a 41 share, and broadcast fall from 61 to 48.

"It's definitely a great thing to get demo data, rather than just a household," said Bonnie Chan, svp, managing director at Interpublic Group's Universal McCann, here. "But the part that is going to be controversial is comparing it to diary data. How will two sets of numbers be reconciled?"