Networks Lean on Nielsen

LOS ANGELES: The standard-bearer of the TV ratings system is getting flak from network chiefs. Executive at Fox and ABC are firing off salvoes in the press over reports that Nielsen numbers are off by as much as 8 percent. Nielsen earlier this spring said a study of its systems turned up compliance issues among its sample households. The 8 percent discrepancy was reported, but Nielsen told Joe Flint of the Los Angeles Times that the ratio was “incorrect.”

Anne Sweeney, chief of Disney/ABC Television Group expressed her frustration to Flint. Nielsen numbers are the metric by which networks charge for air time. Inaccurate audience measurement could cost a network millions, a particular concern an environment where ad revenues are off by 25 percent,

Fox Network chief Tony Vinciquerra told Daily Variety Nielsen isn’t acting fast enough to mitigate the problem, which has to do with the use of controversial People Meters. Fox initially balked at the use of People Meters when the devices were first introduced a few years ago, saying they undercounted Hispanic and minority households. The network was eventually mollified and the meters deployed. Now, it seems that sample subjects using the meters may not be using them properly. -- Deborah D. McAdams