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NYC ‘LPM’ Cable’s Gain, News Corp.’s Loss

3/25/2004 8:59 AM Eastern

Cable is eager for Nielsen Media Research to launch "Local People Meters" in New York next month, even as News Corp. was blasting the move -- and the technology itself -- earlier this week on the eve of the upfront market.

Officials at Comcast Corp. -- which has systems in northern New Jersey that are part of the New York DMA -- and the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau are supporting Nielsen’s move in New York.

"We’re in favor of Local People Meters, and we’re on the same side as the advertising-agency community in that regard," CAB vice president of local sales and marketing Kevin Barry said Thursday.

Comcast Spotlight, the MSO’s ad-sales unit, plans to subscribe to the LPM service in all 10 markets where the ratings service plans to deploy them. Comcast runs interconnects in eight of those 10 markets and participates in them in the other two, according to Jonathan Sims, Comcast Spotlight’s VP of research.

In addition, Comcast Spotlight is negotiating with Nielsen to expand its LPM rollouts to additional markets where it runs hardwired interconnects -- namely Seattle; Miami; Minneapolis; Denver; Sacramento, Calif.; Pittsburgh; Baltimore; Portland, Ore.; and Indianapolis.

"We want to fund People Meter expansion in those nine markets, as well," Sims said. "We need a rational measurement system in place. We’re not going to tolerate metered-diary systems anymore where we’re operating in major markets. These markets have way too much money going into them to rely on that biased system any further."

Officials at the other major MSOs operating in the New York DMA -- Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems Corp. -- couldn’t be reached for comment.

LPMs rolled out in Boston in 2002, and Nielsen said earlier this week that it is delaying planned launches in Los Angeles and Chicago due to problems with the samples in those markets.

The ratings service has no such issues in New York, according to spokesman Jack Loftus, so it will launch the local meters in that DMA April 8.

"The sample in New York is dead-bang on," he added.

But Nielsen’s pronouncement that it was proceeding with LPMs in the Big Apple drew biting criticism from News Corp. in the form of a statement from Lachlan Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer for News Corp. and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group.

News Corp. alleged that the People Meter’s technology "is flawed and may undercount viewership by as much as 25%, particularly among young and minority viewers," and the media giant voiced its opposition to the LPM being deployed in New York.

"If the meter isn’t good enough for Los Angeles and Chicago yet, it certainly isn’t good enough for the nation’s largest market," Murdoch said in his statement.

Nielsen claimed that Fox is upset not with the People Meter methodology, but with the fact that its TV stations’ viewership is dropping with them. Local cable’s numbers have gone up in markets with LPMs, like Boston, because metered diaries are notorious for underreporting cable viewing.

"Fox is totally off the wall here," Loftus said. "What is Fox saying? Fox is saying, ‘We don’t like People Meters. We don’t think it’s the right measurement tool for today.’ It has nothing to do with the sample."

Barry pointed out that TV stations are going to resist the move to LPMs because their ratings decline with them.

"This measurement tool, at least in Boston, had the effect of increasing the reported audience from cable, and it had the effect of decreasing the reported audience from broadcast television as a whole," Barry said. "[TV stations are] going to do whatever they can to resist. In Boston, they went so far as to have no ratings to sell with for one year. That’s how far the broadcasters went in Boston."

Custom research the CAB previously commissioned from Nielsen found that metered diaries -- the tool now used to measure local TV -- understated cable’s audience by 25%-40% while overstating broadcast’s by 10%, Barry said.

Nielsen -- which denied that its People Meter methodology underreports minorities and younger demographics -- pointed out that News Corp. has no problem using national ratings data from People Meters to sell time to advertisers.

"This is very deceptive and somewhat astonishing," Loftus said. "It’s bizarre that they would say that the People Meter is no good for local when they make a fortune selling national People Meter data in the marketplace. You can’t have it both ways."

Sims called News Corp.’s statement about People Meters "a remarkable piece of dissimulation," adding, "for a company to say this when they are using the same system nationally is an absurdity."

While Fox was decrying the LPM rollout in New York, NBC’s two local stations -- WNBC-TV and its Telemundo WNJU -- voiced their support.

"We believe that the LPM system is simply a ‘currency’ change, not a change in the value of the programs being measured," a spokeswoman for both stations said.

"Nielsen has assured us that the new methodology, with its increased sample size, more accurately reflects the state of the New York market," she added. "Both WNBC and WNJU have been monitoring the test data since November, and we are looking forward to the launch of LPMs on April 8."

 

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