The Television Committee of the Media Rating Council voted Friday not to accredit Nielsen's New York Local People Meter service, but it also issued a stern warning to any media companies that were behind public campaigns to block the rollout.
Nielsen will go ahead with the June 3 launch anyway and, when "appropriately prepared to do so," said MRC, can present an action plan to "cure the noncompliance."
The Council did not identify the problems beyond saying that they were related to MRC's "minimum standards for media rating research" and "certain other performance issues of the New York LPM."
The LPM test results in New York may also have been adversely affected by the lobbying campaign against them, said MRC. Nielsen has also claimed that there was a telemarketing campaign and direct-mail campaign urging recipients not to cooperate with the test.
MRC appeared to agree that the campaigns could have skewed the results. "The New York component of the National Services and the New York LPM Service may have been negatively impacted by certain public campaigns and activities focused on the representation of Nielsen measurements. The Television Committee strongly urges that these activities, where linked in any way to media organizations, be immediately ceased. The Television Committee condemns the use of public campaigns as a strategy for a Nielsen client to alter measurement policy. "
MRC mentioned no names, but Fox has orchestrated an aggressive lobbying campaign to delay the rollout of the meters. The campaign was prompted by early New York LPM data that showed Fox down north of 25% on its Fox/UPN duopoly in the Big Apple.
The Don't Count Us Out Coalition, as the lobby christened itself, has brought political pressure to bear on the issue, including prompting concerned inquiries from state and national legislators and even an abortive attempt to get the GAO to audit the ratings company.
Their complaint is that minorities are being undercounted; Nielsen's response has been that the meters were simply more accurately reflecting the flight of some of that minority audience to other media, including cable. One of the networks said to be benefiting from that exodus is BET, which has publicly supported the LPMs.
At one time, those expressing concern included NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, but late last week he lent his support to the meters after a meeting with Nielsen President Susan Whiting.
On the other side is the nation's top Hispanic broadcaster, Univision. The company complained last week that Nielsen's New York People Meter sample did not include enough young Hispanics and that it would not buy the system until Nielsen corrected the situation.
The council emphasized that it supported Local People Meters as an improvement over diaries and that its problems were only with the New York sample (the service has been up and running in Boston since 2002 and is scheduled to roll out in Chicago and L.A. in the next two months).
The council is an independent auditing body funded by clients of various ratings companies.