Sunbeam Sues Nielsen

MIAMI: Sunbeam Television Corp. has filed suit against Nielsen Media Research, alleging the company has abused its monopoly of the TV ratings business. Privately owned Sunbeam, which owns three stations in Miami and Boston, filed suit last Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging that Nielsen is making the industry use defective viewership data from people meters. The move was reported on the Web site of Sunbeam’s Miami Fox affiliate, WSVN-TV.

“The suit came after a change in the way Nielsen gathered its ratings in South Florida. For decades they paid viewers to write down what they watched. In October, they switched to people meters, an electronic measuring system attached to TVs. The next day, WSVN’s ratings dramatically dropped morning, noon and night,” WSVN reporter Patrick Fraser wrote.

Sunbeam owner Ed Ansin said “Suddenly, as of Oct. 1 of last year, about 50 percent of the young audience, the young adult audience disappeared, vanished.”

When people meters were introduced in 2003, the Fox TV Station Group nearly blocked them because they were thought to undercount Latino and African American viewership. The phenomenon was bore out at WSVN, Ansin said, when Fox’s “American Idol” lost half its audience with the implementation of people meters in Miami.

This is impossible,” he said. “Suddenly we didn’t lose 50 percent of the audience, and nobody else in the country did. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Either the previous Nielsen ratings were wrong, or the people meters are wrong, Ansin said. The lawsuit claims the implementation of people meters hit WSVN in the ad revenue and dropped the value of the station by $100 million. -- Deborah D. McAdams