Fox wants answers from Nielsen

Exec blasts ratings co. for recent problems

Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO Tony Vinciquerra is taking on ratings giant Nielsen Media Research.

Vinciquerra told Daily Variety he’s frustrated by Nielsen’s recent admission that its TV ratings may be off by as much as 8% — and believes the company isn’t acting promptly to correct the problem.

“It’s so irritating how they handle these things,” he said. “All evidence points to people watching more TV. Yet the numbers are going down. I’m having a hard time reconciling all of these facts

“I want to know what are they going to do about it.” he said. “How are they going to fix it?”

Vinciquerra stresses he’s not just speaking for Fox. He believes Nielsen is doing a disservice to broadcast and cable networks, as well as advertisers, on the eve of the upfront sales season.

Such a ratings discrepancy could impact millions of dollars of network revenue, he said.

“It’s affecting every advertiser planning their marketing schedule,” he said. “They’re wondering, ‘What am I really getting? Is this the real number?’ They need to know which shows are doing better than the numbers being reported. From the broadcast network perspective, I’m not sure we’re getting a fair shake.”

The issue was serious enough that Fox execs called a meeting with Nielsen on Friday and aired their grievances. The network wasn’t happy with the response.

“They didn’t give an explanation,” Vinciquerra said. “We need far more specifics and evidence of what’s going on. Why not try to fix this going into this upfront period? We pay millions of dollars for this stuff.”

At issue is Nielsen’s recent “In-Panel Validation Initiative,” in which the ratings org investigated how and why some viewers were incorrectly using the PeopleMeter.

Nielsen found enough people punch the meter incorrectly — especially when viewing in large groups — that national TV ratings could be off by 8%.

Nielsen said the study wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive survey of how many Nielsen participants use the PeopleMeter properly, but instead was more a look at why different demo groups weren’t pushing buttons and how to get them to better comply with the system.

As a result, the ratings org said the 8% number wasn’t meant to be carved in stone.

“The point of the study was not to establish a noncompliance level but to gauge how different demo groups perform in relation to others,” Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes said. “What we were trying to do is establish a baseline that would allow us to improve our measurement. It’s incorrect to conclude there is necessarily an 8% underreporting in our panel.”

But the fact that it’s all unclear is what also bothers Vinciquerra. He notes that Fox execs have been scratching their heads all season over the “American Idol” ratings declines and believes this could be a factor.

“It’s been a hugely successful season, yet the ratings are down 11%,” he said. “There are significant, double-digit gains in (the show’s) votes, and there’s been a huge response. We believe the show is doing better than we see in the ratings.”

And Vinciquerra’s not the only exec who has taken Nielsen to task in recent months.

“Now even Nielsen is admitting that they’re not accurate,” ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson told TV Week last week. “That part of the equation is more troubling than ever at this point. On the one hand, more people are watching television than ever before, so there’s something of a disconnect between what really seems to be happening and the Nielsen measurements.”

Miami-based station owner Sunbeam also recently filed suit against the ratings service, accusing it of being a monopoly.

Nielsen also took some hits earlier this month when a computer server snafu wound up delaying primetime ratings by several days.

Executive complaints against Nielsen are nothing new. A few years ago, the networks grew concerned that young adults were being underrepresented in their sample — and the issue was eventually corrected.

In this case, Vinciquerra said he believed Nielsen should simply adjust its ratings to reflect the 8% — or whatever the number is — of PeopleMeter users who are noncompliant.

“They already know what the numbers are, what’s underreported,” he said. “They could fix it with algorithmic adjustment. We’re challenging them to come up with a solution and adjust the ratings in the past as well.”

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