Nielsen's revised ratings system for NY gets thumbs down

MUMBAI: The efforts undertaken by Nielsen Media Research to change the way it measures television ratings in New York City have been dealt a setback by a leading industry association - the Media Rating Council (MRC) - that audits ratings services.

According to a media report, MRC declined to accredit the new system, using what are known as local people meters, until Nielsen addresses unspecified "noncompliance and performance issues" that turned up in an audit by Ernst and Young.

One media report however said that the decision by the council would not affect Nielsen's plans to proceed with the change, which the company said would provide local stations more accurate ratings figures. The numbers are used to help set advertising rates and determine programming lineups.

Nielsen had postponed the change, to measure viewership with electronic meters rather than the current combination of meters and paper diaries, from 8 April after critics complained it would result in undercounting of black and Hispanic viewers.

The ratings service has used the electronic boxes since 1987 to gauge daily viewing patterns on a national basis according to age, gender and ethnicity. But Nielsen only recently decided to apply the system to local ratings, starting with Boston in 2002, said another media report.

The MRC panel represents nearly 50 broadcasters, cable organisations, advertising agencies, and trade groups that are Nielsen clients.

Its refusal to recommend accreditation to the MRC board of directors marked a victory for media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Ltd. and a coalition of civil rights activists and politicians who are seeking to block the roll-out of people meters in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, according to one media report.

Critics opined in some media reports that the local "people meters" undercount minority audiences compared with the old system of measuring local viewer habits through pen-and-paper diaries recorded four times a year for the "sweeps" and have urged Nielsen to delay expansion of the system until an independent review can verify its accuracy.

However, Nielsen insists the new system is sound and that News Corp. is encouraging minority opposition because its Fox television stations in cities like New York and Los Angeles stand to lose local ratings through the more accurate people meters.

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