"We appear to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory." That’s the way Nielsen Media Research spokesman Jack Loftus framed the news that ratings information for KZTV(TV) Corpus Christi, Texas, which was withheld from the ratings books, somehow managed to make it into at least one electronic version of the data.
Nielsen sent out both print and electronic versions last Friday, the latter also going to rep firms and ad agencies.
"I have gotten an initial report that, by error, a disk 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."
Loftus said he is advising the market of the error and recalling any data that were released in error. "The data set should not be used," he added. "At this moment 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."
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. Brady initially assumed that Nielsen had simply relented, saying, "They must have realized the market data was statistically invalid. We appreciate Nielsen releasing the data so as to protect the integrity of their research."
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.
"According to Nielsen, they don’t make mistakes," Brady said upon learning that it was billed as an error, "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."
KZTV was excluded from the book by Nielsen 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 that it would be dropped, Eagle 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 eventually ruled for Nielsen, allowing the book to be released without KZTV numbers, saying that it would not cause the station irreparable harm and that the station had breached its contract.