Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to know why Nielsen Media Research is deploying "Passive People Meters" in Canada and not in the United States.
In a letter to Nielsen President Susan Whiting, Schumer pointed to press reports that Nielsen and BBM Canada were deploying Arbitron's passive people meters there, reportedly because they would "more accurately measure audience viewership (especially out-of-home viewing) than Nielsen's current system, which requires active involvement from participants and may lead to unacceptably high 'fault rates.'"
New York has been the scene of the controversial roll-out of Nielsen's local people meters (LPMs), whose fault rates and alleged undercounting of minority broadcast viewers have been cited by critics in ongoing efforts to block the roll-out there, as well as in Los Angeles and other major markets targeted for the meters. Nielsen says the meters do not undercount minority viewers, are an improvement over diaries and says it is fixing the problems that led the Media Ratings Council to withhold accreditation of the service in New York.
"Given the lack of accreditation for LPM and the concerns voiced by minority communities, it is difficult to understand why Nielsen would not move toward a new technology that, by its nature, seems to be less prone to human error," Schumer wrote.
Actually, Nielsen and Arbitron are testing PPMs in Philadelphia to help Nielsen determine whether it wants to invest in a wider roll-out of the service. It still has questions about how the passive meters measure viewing, and whether it will change the definition of viewing, since the meters could conceivably pick up the signals from the electronics department of a department store or a radio blaring on the street and credit it as media usage for a passerby.
That said, Nielsen has not foreclosed a move to whatever technology best captures viewing and listening, a Nielsen spokesman said last week regarding improved response rates in its Philadelphia PPM test.
Schumer asked Whiting to explain the differences between U.S. and Canadian markets that would justify using different meters and what barriers there are to using the PPMs in the U.S.