Nielsen Shortchanges WBMA Birmingham

“Procedural error” misses digital viewing

Nielsen under-reported ratings for Allbritton’s ABC affiliate between May 2008 and March 2009. Citing a “procedural error,” the ratings giant failed to properly measure digital viewing.

Allbritton has a unique operation in Birmingham, with a pair of ABC affiliates on opposite sides of the DMA airing identical programming and being measured as WBMA+.

A Nielsen spokesperson said Allbritton’s non-traditional set-up in that DMA factored into the mistake. “Audience estimates for WBMA+ are to reflect tuning to WBMA and tuning to WCFT and WJSU, two full-powered satellite stations that distribute the analog and digital simulcast of WMBA’s signal,” the company said in a statement. “A procedural error caused the tuning to the digital simulcasts of WBMA by WCFT and WJSU (received via broadcast, cable or DBS distribution) not to be added to the three stations’ analog tuning between May 26, 2008 and March 23, 2009.”

WBMA+ President/General Manager Mike Murphy said ratings and shares were often less than half of what he would expect them to be. “Television stations are wholly dependent on accurate ratings from Nielsen,” he said. “When they get the numbers wrong, the stations are harmed, advertisers are harmed and viewers are harmed.”  

Nielsen, who insists no other stations in the market were affected in the same manner, says “the crediting assignments for WBMA’s satellite station digital simulcasts have been corrected as of  March 24 , 2009, and all audience estimates for WBMA+ produced since that date have included all tuning to the station and its satellites.”

Murphy suggested that Allbritton might consider legal action once it had reviewed the corrected data, but said it was corporate’s decision. “I don’t want to beat up on Nielsen,” he says, “but it does make you think what else is going on.”

Nielsen says it’s, “completing our assessment of the effort and time required to reprocess ratings for WBMA+ that were previously under-reported. We will provide an update with the delivery schedule for the reprocessed estimates next week.”

Local TV’s KFOR Oklahoma City had a similar problem last year, with Nielsen crediting digital viewing on the station to KFOR’s multicast channel. KFOR officials said household ratings jumped 30-50% after the error was fixed.

Murphy says it’s been “a real long journey” to get the ratings shortfall addressed and fixed. He says he gave the news to his newsroom as soon as he got off the phone with Nielsen Tuesday, and the newsroom erupted in applause. “They realized it wasn’t them,” he says. “It was very gratifying to be able to tell them that.”