Nielsen foes rally over People Meters

Lawmakers, activists argue service will undercount minorities

WASHINGTON — Nielsen, News Corp. and its strange-bedfellow allies in the minority community have all brought in the big guns to fight a nasty public relations war over Nielsen’s decisions to roll out a new TV ratings system in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Critics argue the new system, known as Local People Meters, will undercount minorities.

A coalition of federal and local lawmakers and minority interest groups calling themselves “Don’t Count Us Out,” recently tapped Democratic political heavy-hitters Chris LeHane and Mark Fabiani, the so-called “Masters of Disaster” who worked on communications for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential bid as well as former California Gov. Gray Davis’ re-election and recall fight. Earlier this year, Lehane was bounced from his communications post on Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) then-sputtering presidential campaign.

Nielsen, meanwhile, has retained a prominent public relations firm and hired the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a respected Latino policy research org, to review a study questioning Nielsen’s measurement of Latino voters.

The institute, which is affiliated with USC, was hired to scrutinize the methodology and results of the National Latino Media Council’s Latino Television Study.

Nielsen also retained Robinson Lerer & Montgomery, a public relations firm, which sent reporters an educational DVD titled “Everyone Counts: Facts About TV Ratings and Local People Meters.”

“Fair and reliable measurement of television viewing patterns is the highest priority for Nielsen,” company prexy Susan Whiting wrote in a letter accompanying the DVD.

The letter and DVD were sent the same day “Don’t Count Us Out” held rallies in Los Angeles and Chicago aimed at delaying Nielsen’s implementation of the new People Meter rating system, set to roll out in Los Angeles and Chicago July 8.

The group of local and federal lawmakers and minority rights activists argued that Local People Meters could undercount Latinos as much as 25%. The activist and officials claim it’s an issue of civil rights because if minorities are undercounted, there will be less programming produced for them and they will exercise less influence in the media marketplace.

At the rally, Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Los Angeles) said she was concerned about a “severe undercount” of Latinos, and demanded that the ratings process be “open and transparent.”

The same group succeeded in convincing Nielsen to delay its People Meter rollout in New York, originally set for early April to June 3, through an aggressive campaign that included newspaper ads and protests by prominent public officials, including Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.)

Nielsen promised to have meetings explaining the system to concerned members of Congress and activists, but Solis and others gathered at the rally complained that Nielsen has either failed to meet with them. or provided insufficient explanations when they did.

The rally took on a carnival-like atmosphere when a group of people, including one wearing a large fox head, showed up bearing signs that read, “First Dodgers, Now Cable, Stop Fox TV.” Others read: “Press Conference by Fox TV” in English and Spanish.

Fox, a member of the “Don’t Count Us Out” group, has come under fire for allegedly orchestrating the fight against Nielsen’s People Meters. News Corp., the owner of Fox, has aggressively opposed the new ratings system, fearing it will cost the net millions of dollars because the ratings are used to determine advertising rates.

Alex Nogales, chair of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said Fox played no role in planning Monday’s rally.

“This is not a Fox deal,” he said. “This is about civil rights. This is about equity. This is about justice.”

A Fox spokesman also denied any involvement in Monday’s rally.

“They are truly insulting these groups by saying they are stooges of Fox,” he said. He added: “Do we have interests in these issues? You bet — just as Nielsen has an interesting in seeing these People Meters imposed. There’s a big economic stake in deploying them on time.”