- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Nielsen Media Research Inc. said yesterday it will delay its switch to a new system to measure television audiences in the Washington area until June 30, bowing to pressure from local broadcasters who argued the change would undercount minority viewers.

The New York company was scheduled to switch to the new system in Washington and Philadelphia today. It halted the plan to give local station managers more time to understand its new methodology, Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said.

The delay does not mean Nielsen thinks the system is flawed, he said.

“It’s an acknowledgement that the stations wanted more time to look at the data,” Mr. Loftus said.

The new “local people meters,” electronic devices that sit atop television sets in Nielsen households, are designed to provide a more accurate and detailed snapshot of who watches television.

The meters will replace the written diaries that Nielsen households have used for decades to record their viewing habits and older meters that track viewership but not the demographics of the people watching.

Nielsen has used the meters to gauge ratings for national broadcasters since 1987. The company only recently began using the meters to monitor ratings for local programming, introducing them city by city.

During a trial run in the Washington area in May, the meters suggested fewer viewers were watching television during key time periods than the old system indicated. In addition, station managers said the data indicated disproportionate numbers of black, Hispanic and younger families were not being counted.

The sample size Nielsen is using is too small and may not include enough minorities, some broadcasting executives said.

“Local people meters will eventually provide a good service, but there are inaccuracies that need to be fixed,” said Frederick J. Ryan Jr., vice chairman and president of Allbritton Communications Co., the corporate parent of WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and NewsChannel 8 in the Washington area.

Porter Bibb, managing partner of Mediatech Capital Partners, a New York firm that invests in media companies, told the Reuters news service the people-meter dispute threatens Nielsen’s ability to maintain its monopoly on TV ratings.

“As good or as bad as they are, Nielsen is the industry standard. And they are bad,” Mr. Bibb said.

In a letter to Nielsen last week, Allbritton and 15 other owners of TV stations said measurement errors or omissions in Washington and other cities scheduled to switch to local people meters will have “cascading impacts across the country.”

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