A majority of one

May sweeps with lone Nielsen-rated station in No. 6 market

Beginning today, and for the first time," said Jack Oken, general manager in charge of local services for Nielsen Media Research, in a statement, "Boston media will be able to plan, buy and sell television time according to the same standard of excellence used in nationwide television audience measurement: the peoplemeter."

How many Boston media will use Nielsen local peoplemeters (LPMs) is another story. They launched in Boston last week with three cable clients—AT&T Broadband, New England Cable News and New England Sports Network—but only one broadcast client, WNDS(TV) Derry, N.H.

WNDS signed up only a few days before the LPM's May-sweeps launch. "We're proud to be the first broadcast station in the Boston market to subscribe," said General Sales Manager Pat McLaughlin. "We expect to improve our demographic reporting, and that will justify the expense."

McLaughlin said WNDS's recorded performance improved significantly in the LPM test period: The station emerged in more demo categories. The recording technology helps the independent station, she said, since viewers of its syndicated fare are likely to remember seeing it on Boston's more familiar stations offering the same shows and record that in their ratings diaries. "For us, it can only get better."

Boston's other stations, whose numbers dropped using the new method, have rejected the service and will have no local relationship with Nielsen. The stations say the new local service is unproven and flawed and that LPM testing has shown lower overall viewership for broadcast TV and lower ratings for Boston's major stations. A number of GMs in the market have expressed interest, and even a preference, for Arbitron portable peoplemeters (PPMs) being tested in Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, the PPM's 17.3 average quarter-hour rating over a measured week compared with Nielsen's 12.9. Cable scored an 8.1 via PPM, Nielsen meter/diary estimates a 3.4. Arbitron said the increases "appear to be due in part to increased viewing for men and people under age 35, as well as substantially higher cable viewing overall and the PPM's ability to track viewing out of home." Nielsen said the two services are working together to explore the disparities. Nielsen partners in the PPM tests and has an option to join Arbitron in its commercial deployment.

Stations not using the LPMs will not be able to mention Nielsen numbers in sales or promotions. Station execs say they'll determine rates for inventory on a supply-and-demand basis.