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News Corp., Nielsen end rift

October 26, 2006|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

Two years after locking heads in a high-profile dispute about the counting of minority viewers, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and Nielsen Media Research have made peace.

The two sides announced an agreement Wednesday under which News Corp. would use the audience rating service for eight years.

Nielsen will provide audience measuring services for 49 News Corp. television entities, including the Fox broadcast network, 35 Fox-owned TV stations and satellite provider DirecTV. Nielsen also will invest $50 million to improve the response rate of minority and young viewers.

"I applaud Nielsen's commitment to spend the necessary money to better educate certain constituencies about how to use their local people meters properly," said News Corp. Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg.

In 2004, Nielsen started measuring local television ratings with "people meters" -- devices that track viewing habits electronically instead of through handwritten viewer diaries.

Unhappy with lower-than-expected ratings at its Fox stations, which aired some shows for African Americans, News Corp. alleged that the system undercounted blacks.

The argument soon got ugly: News Corp. said it asked Nielsen to stop rolling out the people meters; Nielsen said News Corp. threatened to "discredit" it.

News Corp. funded the Don't Count Us Out Coalition, which staged various high-profile protests.

Industry group Media Rating Council criticized News Corp. and issued a statement saying it "strongly condemns the use of public campaigns as a strategy for a Nielsen client to alter measurement policy."

Last year, the companies began peace talks.

"I applaud the fact that Fox has pushed them to this agreement," Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said about Nielsen.

Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes said the company had installed meters in 10 markets, including Los Angeles, and planned to install them in 16 more. Holmes said the $50 million would be spent on coaches and extra field representatives to assist minority and young viewers.

"We were motivated to do this through concerns that have been raised by our clients and through our ongoing commitment to improving our services," Holmes said. "But the idea that people weren't being counted is not something we agree with."

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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