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People meter hits
an LA speed bump

Delay likely as Nielsen works out sampling issues

By Toni Fitzgerald

   After all the squabbling in Boston over adoption of the local people meter, it was assumed that the rollout of the viewer tracking device in the nation’s other top 10 markets would occur pretty steadily.
   It was a reasonable assumption, especially after so much resistance on the part of local TV affiliate stations fell apart.
But it's not going to go quite so smoothly, it turns out.
   Some trouble with the samples in Los Angeles has Nielsen Media Research thinking it may have to delay the start of live data from the city, which was to have been the country’s second LPM market.

   Instead of an April launch it could be weeks or perhaps months before LA launches. 

  Nielsen Media Research said yesterday that it will decide this week, possibly as early as today, whether the target date is feasible for a service that was supposed to begin in October but has been pushed back several times as Nielsen refines its sample.
   “The difference between the people meters and the diary is that they’re [people meters] supposed to be more accurate,” says Maribeth Papuga, MediaVest senior vice president and director of local broadcast. “If you have flaws, and uncover that large chunks of respondents aren’t responding to the meter, like the diary, you’re back to the same problems where people are concerned. You want to believe the data and that it’s been tested.”  
   At this rate New York City and not LA may become the nation’s second live LPM market. Nielsen says NYC’s April launch seems to be on target. 
   The difficulties Nielsen is having in measuring the heterogeneous LA population is because many non-native English speakers, bi-lingual speakers and Spanish speakers reside there, and Nielsen is having trouble getting the right sample.  
   “We’re supposed to sit down in the next day or so to look at the final sample,” says Nielsen senior vice president Jack Loftus. “We do this the month before a launch. New York looks good; LA, I don’t know about.”  
   “In the ethnic households and in other households they’re not seeing people respond and use the remote to record who is watching the programs, so they’re getting nothing in some of those households,” Papuga says.
   Loftus objects to that categorization, saying that Nielsen has seen higher levels of cooperation in both African American and Hispanic households than other households.
   “The issue with ethnic homes in LA is that we are under in the category identified as mostly Spanish spoken in the home,” Loftus says. “In terms of overall ethnic, we don’t have an issue there at all. But people have a lot of different impressions based on the different sample levels the past six to eight months.”
   Loftus says it’s probably too early to tell whether there will be delays in Chicago, the next sample rollout targeted for June. Nielsen aims to have the top 10 markets covered by May 2006.  
   Though many media people are eager to see the LPM data, they don’t want the process to be so rushed that the early results are off target. LPMs will allow for the delivery of local demographic information daily, information that is currently only available during the sweeps periods for local markets.  
   The result will be a huge impact on local advertising, and that is why the LPMs have become so controversial. The Boston revolt, which began shortly after the device went live in May 2002, was triggered by local stations unhappy with the discrepancies between paper diary results and LPM results, which often recorded rises for smaller networks and dropoffs for the bigger, easier-to-remember networks that dominate paper diaries.  
   One complaint is that the LPM over-reports cable TV audiences. Coupled with the fact that it costs more than the current system, that leaves few incentives for broadcasters to make the switch.  
   “My personal opinion is intuitively I think it will show a greater audience to cable, and that will change the dynamic between buyer and seller because it will illustrate that local cable is a more viable option,” says Kevin Gallagher, senior vice president and director of local investment group at Starcom.
   The resistance eventually subsided in Boston, with all the major networks signing up for the LPM for their owned and operated stations in the top 10 markets. A number of cable TV systems, including Comcast, have also signed up.  
   “If you compare between how you do in the diaries and the people meters, in some instances you’ll do better in the diary than the people meter, but I don’t know anyone who maintains that the diary is a superior data collection method than the electronic meter is,” Loftus says.  
   “People rightly criticized the use of diaries in major markets. People don’t remember that they watched a small station or cable system, and they put the big station in their diary. It overstates some viewing and it understates others.”  
   There’s non-Nielsen research to back up criticism of paper diaries. A study on research collection methodology released earlier this month by Ball State University’s Center for Media Design found that telephone interviews were the least reliable media usage recorder, followed by paper diaries, whose users reported a 12 percent average difference in TV usage time than those observed by researchers.  
   But media people are mainly concerned that the data they share with their clients be correct, no matter what the methodology.  
   “I'm sure some people are up in arms about the delay, but give Nielsen credit for erring on the side of caution,” says Brad Adgate, senior vice president and corporate research director at Horizon. “Yes, we have waited this long for the roll-out; it's better to be safe than sorry.”

March 18, 2004© 2004 Media Life

- Toni Fitzgerald is a staff writer for Media Life.

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