Madison Station Nixes Nielsen

CW outlet WBUW gives ratings giant low marks

While many stations are content to simply knock Nielsen, but not actually sever ties with the ratings service, ACME's CW outlet WBUW Madison has officially pulled the plug. WBUW is in its first Nielsen-free month, and VP/General Manager Tom Keeler says the savings has kept a pair of lower-level staffers on the payroll.

"We weighed the cost of Nielsen versus the accuracy of the reporting," he says, "and [cancelling] it has saved us two jobs. When you're looking to cut costs, it didn't make sense to continue investing in something that's categorically wrong."

General managers in the #85 DMA, a diary market, say it's a tough market to measure, with about half the population in rural areas. WISC EVP/General Manager David Sanks says ratings swing dramatically for the CBS affiliate with each book: May was poor, for instance, while July was terrific. "It's pretty incredible that this industry relies on something with a degree of statistical error that's plus or minus 20%," he says, adding that news research offers around a 3-5% margin of error.

A Nielsen spokesperson says it's not uncommon for a station to cancel the service, only to sign up again down the road. "We believe it puts stations at a competitive disadvantage not to get Nielsen ratings, which provide accurate independent information on who's watching television in a particular market," the spokesperson said. "It is not uncommon for stations to cycle in and out of the Nielsen service and we look forward to re-signing these stations as clients."

Stations have long butted heads with Nielsen over accuracy and cost. Earlier this summer, Granite's WKBW Buffalo dropped Nielsen in favor of Media Audit. Last spring, Sunbeam Television leveled a lawsuit on the ratings giant. The suit, still pending, claimed Nielsen's Local People Meters "produced defective, wildly inaccurate ratings data which-literally overnight-created havoc in [Miami]."

Keeler won't say what the station paid for its ratings, but that it was "a lot." He says the statistical and anecdotal evidence from contesting and direct response marketing, as well as feedback he got while out in the community, just did not match up with the numbers Nielsen was producing. Ratings were a consistent source of frustration for WBUW staffers. "We're probably the most visible station in the market," he says, "in terms of promotion."

Ratings-less since the beginning of August, Keeler says he's looking into ratings alternatives for WBUW. "We're evaluating other credible research companies to assist our sales staff and educate the advertising community about where their ad money is best spent," he says.