It's one of television's most bankable truisms—each new market adopting Nielsen's Local People Meters leaves a bunch of broadcasters crying foul. Nielsen officially switched on the meters in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale Oct. 2, and station managers there say ratings are way, way down, particularly in the vital 25-54 demo.
“The good news is we're still selling product,” says WSVN Executive Vice President/General Manager Robert Leider. “The bad news is a 4 [rating] becomes a 1.8. It just doesn't make sense to us.”
While some managers give Nielsen high marks for working to get things right in Miami, including frequent trips to the No. 16 DMA to meet with local television executives, their complaints are considerable. The sample size of the market may have jumped from around 500 with the diary meters to 620 with the LPMs, but some feel it's still too small—especially considering a double-digit increase in what they pay for the new metrics.
Others charge that Nielsen, long derided by minority groups for undercounting them with the LPMs, went too far to represent Miami's substantial Hispanic community (which comprises about 45% of the DMA). Some counter that Nielsen indeed worked out the right ethnic mix in the sample after months of trial and error.
But the most voluble complaints concern the lower ratings, a frequent source of angst in LPM markets. According to one general manager who compared September LPM ratings to May's diary numbers (Nielsen tallies LPM ratings for three or four months before officially making it the market's ratings currency), total day and morning ratings stayed flat in the 25-54 demo for all stations, but primetime viewing was down 18% and late news was down 14%. Comments Nielsen spokesperson Gary Holmes: “Despite glitches here and there, Nielsen maintains that LPM markets are the most accurate way of measuring viewership in a multichannel market.”
Typically, complaints persist about Nielsen's “monopoly” in the television ratings space, which is hardly a fault of Nielsen's. “There's one service that continues to guide all media decisions,” says WPLG VP/General Manager David Boylan. “A small number of people have such a big impact—and there's no competition.”
For years, broadcasters have battled Nielsen over its LPMs, which involve household members pushing a button to have their viewing measured electronically. The people meters went live in Minneapolis and Cleveland Aug. 28, prompting WKYC Cleveland to issue a letter to Nielsen stating its “deep concerns” about the new metric's accuracy. (Besides Miami, Nielsen kicked off LPMs in Denver in early October.)
Generally speaking, the LPMs seem to better represent younger viewers, who were often not as thorough in filling out paper diaries. As a result, the younger-skewing stations in a market are often more receptive to LPMs.
Some in Boston, the first TV market to adopt people meters back in 2002, still find fault with Local People Meters six years later. “LPMs are old news, but we still have significant issues with Nielsen's measurement of the Boston market,” says WCVB President/General Manager Bill Fine, who mentions losing ratings points to ABC affiliates in neighboring markets. “We still feel it's imperfect technology.” (Nielsen's Holmes acknowledges what he calls minor problems regarding WCVB's ratings for New England Patriots games being credited to WMUR Manchester [NH] last fall, but says the occasional foul-ups are largely offset by Local People Meters' increased accuracy.)
Indeed, Nielsen insists LPMs are, in the digital age, the best available representation of who's watching what in a particular market. “The larger People Meter sample size will automatically help to improve reliability,” reads a message on the ratings giant's Website. “In addition, the sampling error currently introduced by combining results from two separate samples is avoided since tuning and viewing are measured within the same sample with People Meters.”
Miami-Ft. Lauderdale television is expected to book $553 million this year, according to BIA Financial, which ranks Sunbeam's Fox affiliate WSVN as the top revenue earner, trailed by Post-Newsweek's ABC outlet WPLG.
Also in the hunt are CBS-owned WFOR, WTVJ (which NBC is selling to Post-Newsweek), Univision outlet WLTV and Tribune's WSFL.
Despite the lower ratings, Miami station execs say the LPMs do not seem to have shifted the pecking order and have not caused them to decrease ad rates. “Advertisers realize we're the same station we were before,” WNoSVN's Leider says. “But it's hard on media buyers, who have to justify to their directors that the 25-54 audience was there the day before, and then it's not.”
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