US Media Critics Continue to Battle Nielsen

04 June 2004

Nielsen Media Research, owned by Dutch publishing firm VNU, has defied its critics by proceeding with a shakeup of the way television viewing is measured in New York.

The CBS arm of Viacom on Wednesday condemned Nielsen's introduction of local people meters as an "overly aggressive, self-imposed timetable for this conversion [which would] only be detrimental to its eventual effectiveness."

Exemplifying the mixed reactions triggered by the move, the CBS announcement followed a statement by another Viacom cable network, BET (which caters specifically for black viewers) in which the new changes were welcomed; while another ethnically-oriented network, Univision Communications (serving Hispanic audiences), rejected Nielsen's plans.

Meantime, the Don't Count Us Out Coalition, representing a plethora of opponents to the new initiative, threatened state and federal lawsuits concerning Nielsen's responses to its complaints. TV ads in four major markets plus advertisements in national and local newspapers and magazines have been instigated by the coalition.

Nielsen has hit back by demanding that the coalition's advertising and public relations campaign be halted, accusing it of "inaccuracies and distortions."

At the crux of the argument is Nielsen's move away from its previous TV measurement mix of paper diaries plus electronic technology, in exclusive favor of the latter in the New York market, America's largest.

The move will be replicated in Chicago and Los Angeles in two months time, rolling out across the ten biggest markets by the end of next year.

Nielsen insists electronic measurement will generate more accurate data across all viewing sectors; opponents claim it will result a dramatic undercounting of black and Hispanic viewers.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff