Washington, D.C.-based strategic-communications firm Glover Park Group says on its Web site that it created the Don't Count Us Out coalition (DCUO) at the behest of client News Corp. (see http://www.gloverparkgroup.com/content/casestudies/casestudies_count.shtml)
Nielsen claimed it was proof of an orchestrated attack, while the coalition said Nielsen was trying to change the subject by "slinging mud at community activists," and Glover Park said its involvement has been long known.
The coalition bills itself as a grass-roots campaign--"a coalition of minority leaders, community groups, television industry producers, directors, and actors and ordinary everyday people concerned about fair and accurate television ratings." Their goal is to block the roll-out of Nielsen's Local People Meters as currently constituted because they believe them flawed.
The coalition has acknowledged support and financing from News Corp., some of whose stations in major markets have suffered ratings drops from the new meters, and it was no secret that Glover Park had been handling Fox's participation in the group, but the "Case Study" below, taken straight from the Web site, spells out the extent to which Glover Park, and by extension News Corp., motormanned the protest:
Don’t Count Us Out Integrated Campaign
"Nielsen Media Research was set to launch a controversial new television rating system. Strong evidence suggested that the new system could undercount African Americans and Hispanics, as well as younger viewers – and in doing so, severely penalize networks like FOX and UPN that tailor their content to these audiences. FOX parent-company News Corp .turned to the Glover Park Group to devise a campaign to fight back. GPG enlisted community activists and organizations across the country in the Don’t Count Us Out coalition. The coalition launched a grassroots campaign, including public protests and rallies; television, radio and print ads were run in both in affected markets and inside the Beltway; calls and e-mails were targeted at Nielsen executives, shutting down their corporate switchboard; and a legislative strategy was implemented targeting key Senators and Congressmen. As a result, Nielsen was forced to delay the roll out of the new system in New York City and currently the Senate Commerce Committee is considering legislation that would, for the first time, mandate government regulation of the Nielsen monopoly."
The Coalition argues that they are not against the meters per se, but believe they should not have been rolled out because they undercount minority viewing. Nielsen argues that, despite some ongoing sampling problems, the meters are an improvement over the current system and are, in part, simply tracking the flight of those minorities to other media, including cable.
Nielsen saw the "case study" by Glover Park as vindication of its long-standing complaint that the coalition's roots were not in grass but the corporate offices of News Corp.
"The Glover Park Group is admitting for the first time that it created, organized and directed the activities of the Don't Count Us Out organization at the behest of News Corp.," Nielsen said in a statement.
"Don't Count Us Out has always maintained that it was an independent group of community activists. However, this admission, which is found on Glover Park's own website as a "case study" to attract more clients, clearly shows that it was always acting to advance the corporate interests of News Corp. and its TV stations, which experienced lower ratings after Nielsen replaced papers diaries with more accurate electronic Local People Meters in major television markets."
The Coalition countered that Nielsen was trying to divert attention from the real issue.
"We have always readily discussed the fact that we receive financial and logistical support from News Corporation, and we are pleased to have News Corp as an ally in this fight, said coalition member Gil Casellas, President of Casellas & Associates and former chairman of the EEOC. "Our members have been fighting for issues of fairness and equality their whole lives, and a suggestion that their membership in DCUO is anything other than a continuation of that fight is outrageous and offensive.
"Nielsen is trying to change the topic from the plain fact that right now Nielsen's monopoly ratings service is not fully accredited in any market in the United States except one. Nielsen should spend more time fixing its broken ratings system and less time slinging mud at community activists."
Howard W. Wolfson, partner at Glover Park, says the company's role in the campaign has been known for some time and didn't see the "case study" as any additional information. "We haven't tried to hide it. This is not something that you had to look for. It has been on the Web site for a while." (Nielsen steered reporters to the site Thursday).
Wolfson seconded Casellas, saying the coalition members are united by a long-standing fight for fairness and equality, of which the DCUO is just the latest incarnation.
Casellas is a paid consultant to the coalition, but Wolfson said he knew of no other members whose incentive was more than the above-mentioned fight for fairness.
For its part, Nielsen footed the bill for a task force to look into LPM problems in the wake of the DCUO campaign. "That's right," said Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus,"the task force was not paid by News Corp. or Don't Count Us Out, but we announced that from the get-go."