Nielsen launching new New York ratings system Thursday

MUMBAI: Media research giant Nielsen has scheduled their New York launch of the controversial modified television ratings system for Thursday, 3 May. The launch, which was earlier scheduled for 8 April, got postponed after it encountered harsh criticism from various minority groups.

Nielsen has been facing flak over the new system which has people meters replacing the paper diaries Nielsen has provided to viewers in local markets since 1950, as well as set-top boxes that are not as technically sophisticated.

Nielsen has now attempted to mellow the growing criticism by promising to keep its old measurement system of hand-written diaries and older electronic gauges running for another three months in addition to its new "people meter" system, which it will launch Thursday.

But even that move has not gone down well with Hispanic groups such as the Hispanic broadcaster Univision Communications Inc. which has panned the compromise as a confusing move that would still exaggerate English-language viewing.

"Running both systems will confuse advertisers and the public, waste time and money with duplicative and conflicting data, and debase the value of Nielsen research," observed a statement from the broadcaster.

The point critics have been making is that people meters undercount minority audiences, cutting ratings for minority-focused shows. The old system of measuring detailed local viewer habits through pen-and-paper diaries was used during the key "sweeps" periods of ratings races and a few other times in major markets.

In their turn, Nielsen has been alleging that the whole controversy has been raked up by media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Ltd. whose Fox television stations in cities like New York and Los Angeles stand to lose local ratings through the more accurate people meters. News Corp and a coalition of civil rights activists have been demanding an independent review to verify the new system's accuracy and are seeking to block the new system until then.

Meanwhile, the television committee of the Media Relations Council, an industry group, has said that it had declined to endorse the system. Nielsen claims that the group has only delayed their approval for the system.

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