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Univision sues over Nielsen's meters

The Spanish-language network says Nielsen's new electronic system will undercount its viewers.

By Associated Press
Published June 11, 2004

LOS ANGELES - Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications Inc. sued to block Nielsen's new TV ratings system, arguing Thursday that it will drastically undercount Hispanics.

Nielsen Media Research knows that the Local People Meter system is flawed and is guilty of unfair, unlawful and deceptive business practices by promoting it, according to the suit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

It seeks to block the company's plans to launch on July 8 a Los Angeles version of the LPM system, which Nielsen already is using in New York and Boston and plans to implement in Chicago in August.

Nielsen defended both its technology and its sampling techniques and said the claims in the suit are without merit.

"We stand firmly behind our Los Angeles sample and our proven methodology," Nielsen said in a statement Thursday. "People Meters do a better job of representing what people are watching on TV, and they in no way prejudice any viewer group."

Nielsen, which has a monopoly on counting TV viewers, is switching to the electronic system for measuring local habits that it contends will be far more accurate. Currently, 500 households in a city are asked to record their TV viewing in a diary kept during four "sweeps" months. Nielsen is increasing its sample to 800 homes per city and measuring viewing every day through the "people meter" device attached to televisions.

The new system uses an electronic meter on the television and assigns a button to each family member. The system better tracks the viewing habits of each individual, thus providing more accurate detail on which age groups are watching what programs.

But critics say dry runs of the system have shown sharply lower ratings for some programs popular in black and Hispanic homes, which could harm advertising for those programs.

"Nielsen's own data indicates that the sample on which it is basing its LPM ratings is fundamentally flawed, as it dramatically undercounts young Hispanic-Americans and large Hispanic families and overstates Hispanic-American households that speak mostly or only English," according to a statement from Los Angeles-based Univision.

New York is the corporate headquarters of Nielsen, but its so-called nerve center is in Oldsmar. That's where most of its employees work and most of its media measurement work is done. Nielsen moved into the $80-million Oldsmar complex last year, consolidating employees based in Dunedin and other locations around Pinellas County.

Nielsen began providing preliminary data from the People Meters in New York and Los Angeles in 2003, the suit states. The data reflected a "dramatic ratings decline among its core viewing groups" and a shift to older viewers who are far less attractive to advertisers, the suit said.

"Nielsen data is the only industry measuring tool that is available to guide advertisers in placing their television dollars, and where those dollars get placed directly affects the ability of television networks and stations to develop and air quality information and entertainment programming for their audiences," Ray Rodriguez, President of the Univision Television Networks, said in a statement.

The National Latino Media Council issued a study last winter that charged the new system would underrepresent the growing Hispanic market. The study found, for instance, that Nielsen did not include enough U.S.-born Hispanics in its sample.

[Last modified June 11, 2004, 00:02:45]

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