After a Texas court agreed with Nielsen Media Research's decision to withhold ratings information about KZTV(TV) Corpus Christi, Texas, from the market, Nielsen goofed and sent it out anyway.
"We appear to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory." That's the way Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus framed the news that the data somehow managed to make it into at least one electronic version received by some Corpus Christi agencies and rep firms the week of Christmas.
KZTV was excluded from the book after it aired a promo using a graphic of a Nielsen diary cover, which is against Nielsen rules. A competitor complained and sent Nielsen a copy of the promo. After Nielsen informed the station it would be dropped, Eagle Creek Broadcasting sued to have the book delayed, arguing that the promo did not distort viewing in the market, that the punishment was draconian, and that the station would be harmed if it was excluded.
A judge initially held up the book but, after a four-day hearing late last month, allowed the book to be released without KZTV numbers.
Nielsen sent out both books and discs, the latter also going to rep firms and ad agencies. "I have gotten an initial report that, by error, a disc [that had the KZTV numbers] was released into the marketplace," said Loftus. "We don't know by whom, but it obviously originated with us at some point in the food chain. It's an error, and we're trying to fix it."
Brian Brady, president of KZTV parent Eagle Creek Broadcasting, said he had heard from his rep firm and "about a dozen agencies" that they had the numbers. He initially assumed Nielsen had simply relented.
Loftus assured BROADCASTING & CABLE that it was a mistake. "We're trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again," he said, the implication being that it is a virtually impossible task.
That didn't stop the ratings firm from trying. Nielsen immediately began advising the market of the error and recalling the ratings information. "The data set should not be used," Loftus said. "We are trying to determine how and in what form such data found its way to third-party processors and into the market. We are advising all users not to use these data."
After receiving a copy of the Nielsen recall notice, Brady countered, "What do you suppose makes the data unreliable? Could it be the mere fact that it was sent? The industry has had no problem with the data. In fact, we have had a number of agencies use it to post fourth-quarter buys and to place first-quarter buys. If I were an agency, now that it has been released, I would demand the data or I would refuse to use the market numbers.
"According to Nielsen," he added, "they don't make mistakes so I can only assume they intended to release the data. That being what it is, we appreciate Nielsen releasing the data, because, in our opinion, the only way for Nielsen to protect the integrity of the Corpus Christi data was to release KZTV's numbers. This further proves our position that the data was not tainted."
Mark Turner, COO of Millennium Sales and Marketing, which represents KZTV to advertisers, would not comment on how the company would treat the Nielsen directive.