Nielsen Bows to Pressure, Ups Ethnic Sampling

25 March 2005

Finally bowing to pressure from broadcasters, ethnic groups and politicians, Nielsen Media Research announced Wednesday it is to revaluate its controversial People Meter sampling methodology.

Still reeling from the combined assault of commercially and politically motivated lobbyists, Nielsen will up its sampling of black and Hispanic families, at the same time paying them more for their participation.

Among the outspoken critics of Nielsen's methodology are media owners (including Lachlan Murdoch, chairman of Fox Television), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and such formidable politicians as the Democrat senator for New York, Hilary Rodham Clinton. The Media Rating Council is also reportedly uneasy about the situation.

The latest moves reflect the recommendations of an industry taskforce set-up to propose a solution acceptable to all parties. Its findings agree Nielsen's new People Meter technology to be superior to the old diary system, but that the firm must do more to ensure the participation of minorities.

Nielsen has also accepted the report's recommendation to pay more to its sampling panels, and to adjust the scheme so it rewards individuals in a household instead of the family as a whole. Nielsen, however, is zip-lipped as to how much it pays families or individuals - said to be a merely 'nominal' sum.

The firm also said it would intentionally sample more ethnic minority homes than normally would be the case, citing the reluctance of ethnic households to key codes into the People Meters to record who in the household is watching which programs.

Conscious that deliberate oversampling will alarm many clients, Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus promises the company will weight the data to ensure the final sample accurately reflects the population.

But minority groups remain mistrustful of Nielsen and argue it needs regulatory control. Says a spokeswoman for the ethnic Don't Count Us Out coalition: "Given the history of Nielsen and its status as an unregulated monopoly, we continue to believe that the timely and continued implementation of these recommendations requires independent oversight."

Nielsen is said to be on the icy side of lukewarm at suggestions of regulatory oversight.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff