Minority report rips Nielsen tools

Research polls taken to task

WASHINGTON — A task force convened to evaluate Nielsen Media Research’s audience measuring methods issued a report Wednesday calling for reforms to better measure minority television auds.

The Independent Task Force on Television Measurement, created in April, delivered a 62-page report to Nielsen CEO Susan Whiting. Recommendations focused on sampling techniques, field operations, fault rates, diversity and communications.

Critics had charged that some of Nielsen’s methods — particularly its use of Local People Meters — either ignored or undercounted minority audiences. The findings of the report seemed to substantiate that charge.

“Our recommendations on sampling techniques address the issue of measuring intra-diversity in African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian-American and other ethnic communities in LPM cities,” the report stated. “We also provide suggestions on training of the field staff, diversity and improved communication with field employees, clients, minority communities and the general public.”

Larger problem

But the report alleged that Nielsen’s deficiencies were only part of a larger, systemic problem in television.

“Beyond the issue of minority measurement that the task force examined, the continued inadequate representation of persons of color on television or in positions of authority remains a significant problem within this industry,” the report said. “This is a much broader issue than Nielsen alone, one that affects advertisers, broadcasters, cable operators, producers, syndicators and others in the world of media. It is the responsibility of every industry member to serve the public interest by fairly including all segments of society.”

Nielsen began testing LPMs in Boston in 2002, followed by tests in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco two years later. Among shows that received low ratings were a handful on Fox-run UPN stations that targeted African-American and Hispanic viewers. Fox’s parent company, News Corp., charged that the LPM ratings were inaccurate and accused Nielsen of undercounting minority viewers.

Fox chimes in

Shortly thereafter, Don’t Count Us Out, a new organization funded by News Corp., raised the same objections, and was joined by various community leaders and elected officials. In response, Nielsen created the task force.

“We commend (task force chairwoman) Cardiss Collins and the task force on their outstanding work and strong recommendations,” said Cynthia Rotunno, DCUO’s exec director, in a statement.

Nielsen’s Whiting released the following statement: “The task force’s first priority was to understand the science of television audience measurement — including sampling, data collection, data processing and data reporting — and then to make practical recommendations about how to improve the service and help Nielsen do a better job of measuring America’s highly diverse and changing population. We are committed to working with our clients to implement these recommendations.”

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