Nielsen Sued For Billions For Allegedly Manipulating Television Ratings Data

Entertainment Features
07.31.12 14 Comments

Let me just preface this by saying that the lawsuit in question is being filed by an Indian television news network — New Delhi Television Limited — but the practices that Nielsen allegedly engaged in could very well be going on anywhere. If a company is willing to be corrupt in one country, there’s no reason to think that the same company wouldn’t be corrupt in another, like the United States. If so, the implications could be huge.

I won’t bore you with ALL the legal details of the case (the initial filing was 194 pages long). In short, according to THR, the Indian news station, NDTV, is alleging that Nielsen has been manipulating television ratings data for eight years, that Nielsen acknowledged as much, vowed to make changes, and did not. As a result, NDTV is suing the company for billions in damages claiming that manipulated data damaged the oldest news network in the country.

The allegations allege that Nielsen, in cost-cutting measures, drastically reduced the sample size to only 8,000 households (that’s a preposterous number given the total population of India). Of those 8,000 households, many of the Peoplemeters have been installed in the homes of government officials, who have manipulated the data to show television viewership that does not exist. Moreover, television stations are paying people with these Peoplemeters to turn their linked televisions onto their channels, even when no one is in the room to watch them (they also hit the “guest buttons” to show more people in a room than actually exist). Employees are also allegedly taking bribes in exchange for manipulating that data.

They also allege, according to THR, similar practices are going on in Turkey and Florida, among other places. It should also be noted that the Nielsen Company — a $5 billion global organization — was bought out in 2008 by several entities. The company that owns Nielsen also once owned The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard. In a world with so much corporate consolidation, it’s also fair to ask if any of the entities owned by Nielsen might benefit from manipulated ratings. Moreover, how difficult would it be, in smaller markets in the United States, for instance, for a local television network to offer kickbacks to the Nielsen families in their area to drastically affect ratings? If these bribes are common in the United States, does it affect national ratings? How difficult would it really be for a family in the United States to turn to a channel and leave the room?

Whatever is going on, there’s certainly reason to distrust Nielsen. Is it even fair to allow one company so much power over what is and is not considered a successful television show, even when other metrics do not necessarily jibe with what Nielsen considers popular? How easy would it be, even in the US, to manipulate data? What kind of security measures are in place? Why are Nielsen ratings often such a poor reflection of what’s popular in the real world? How deep does this run? And can we get Jason Bourne on the case?

(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)

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