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Nielsen: is it a 90% discount, a stunning price hike or both?

Originally published in Current, Oct. 16, 2000
By Steve Behrens

Pubcasters are complaining, negotiating and beginning to organize a response after Nielsen Media Research began doubling and tripling what it charges for TV ratings data. The topic inflamed enough of them that PBS put it on the agenda of its Fall Planning Meeting, Oct. 22 [2000] [related story].

Only Nielsen knows exactly who is paying how much, and spokeswoman Karen Kratz declines to discuss its private deals with stations. But the ratings company reportedly contends that its raises are reasonable. Nielsen sales exec Steve Posnock told PBS that the company is moving toward new rates that are still only 10 percent of what commercial stations pay, according to PBS research chief John Fuller. Other pubcasters also say that Nielsen claims it's giving a 90 percent discount.

Tom Holter, v.p. of the Public Television Programmers Association, says doubled and tripled monthly Nielsen bills are commonly turning up in a survey that he's doing for the association. The Nielsen bill for his station, KTCA/KTCI in Twin Cities, had an increase in that range, phased in over five years, he says. If that does indeed bring his public TV station up to 10 percent of the commercial stations' level, then the commercial stations will be hit with increases of around 75 percent, he figures.

PTPA hasn't completed its survey of the rate increases, but early data indicates that the increases are inconsistent from station to station. Some had smaller raises. Perhaps the largest increase hit KOCE, a small station in the vast Los Angeles market, according to the station's president, Mel Rogers. He says KOCE's bill went up from $286 a month to $9,000 a month--a 30-fold increase.

Many stations use ratings in soliciting underwriting, to show the size and demographics of their audiences, and Nielsen is the only source of TV ratings. Holter says the price increase is causing some pubcasters to question whether they should be selling credits on the basis of audience size.

Asked about the rate increases, Nielsen spokeswoman Karen Kratz says the company has made many service improvements in the past two years. The company maintains 400 to 500 meters in viewers' homes in every city where it provides metered ratings, according to Fuller. Nielsen was purchased in August 1999 by the Dutch publishing company VNU Inc., which also bought Scarborough Research, Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, AdWeek and other U.S. properties. Nielsen's president is John Dimling, a former research director at CPB.

. To Current's home page
. Related story: Restructuring proposals for public TV are on the table at the same PBS meetings, October 2000.
. Outside link: Nielsen Media Research site.

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