Three weeks after suing ratings giant Nielsen Media Research for antitrust violations, startup ratings provider ErinMedia is taking aim at the validity of Nielsen’s new local people meter system in Washington.
Nielsen went live with LPM data from Washington and Philadelphia June 30, though it had been gathering LPM data from both markets before that. In advance of the launch, Nielsen released data on the top 30 programs among Washington African-American households for its old set-top/diary system and its new LPMs.
One knock against LPMs has been that they undercount minorities, resulting in lower ratings for some networks and shows. Nielsen said the results of its comparison showed African-American themed programs performed better under the LPMs.
ErinMedia decided to do its own analysis. When the company’s top statistician compared the two sets of ratings, ErinMedia says most of those top 30 shows in fact reported lower ratings under LPMs than the old system. In addition, it says the swings are so wide – as much as 40% – that the validity of either the LPM or set-top data should be called into question.
It is rare for Nielsen to put out ratings for its two systems. Some local stations in Washington said they had not even seen such data before. But Nielsen says ErinMedia is drawing faulty conclusions by comparing two different sets of data.
“Like their meritless lawsuit, this is an undisguised attempt to generate publicity for a service that has no real experience measuring television viewership,” a Nielsen spokesperson said.
Nielsen does not dispute that ratings often drop from diaries to LPMs. The explanation it has given is that, under the diary system, viewing was actually overreported, with people tending to write in their favorite shows and networks more than they were actually watching them.
With the electronic LPMs, actual viewing is recorded. “With LPMs, we’re going to see different results, but more accurate results,” the company’s spokesperson said.
However, opponents of the new system have said LPMs undercount minorities and young viewers.
ErinMedia CEO Frank Maggio says the Washington results are indicative of a larger problem with Nielsen. “They are trying to spin their LPM data to drive some support,” he says. “They want you to believe their data represents the entire viewing universe.”
While Nielsen’s rating system is based on responses from a sample, ErinMedia derives its ratings from TV usage culled from digital cable boxes. Nielsen is in talks with Comcast and Time Warner about analyzing data from their set-tops.
Maggio says ErinMedia will continue to dig into Nielsen data.
As for the lawsuit, Maggio says he is pressing on, while Nielsen has filed for an extension, as legal analysts expected.