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Nielsen Sued For Billions; TV Network Claims It Manipulated Ratings

from the gatekeepers dept

In a somewhat massive legal filing, in a NY State court, India-based New Dehli Television Limited (NDTV) has sued Nielsen for billions, claiming that the famous TV ratings service manipulated ratings in India in a way that harmed its own offerings. The accusations suggest massive corruption, which NDTV tries to blame on Nielsen's investor-owners, claiming that the company's owners were trying to cut expenses, leaving the Nielsen process (which has always been somewhat suspect, relying on a relatively small number of "Nielsen households" with tracking boxes) open to manipulation. In India, which already has the reputation of a fair bit of corruption among politicians, there's the added bonus that many "politicians also own cable networks"
It is common knowledge that there are a number of television channels owned by politicians and political parties. Furthermore, politicians also own cable networks in certain Indian states. At the household level, in certain instances PeopleMeters have been installed at the residences of government officials, where tampering of the data also takes place.
It's interesting to see that Nielsen, nominally a Dutch company, is being sued by an Indian TV company... in the state of NY. Part of the reason may be that Nielsen's headquarters are in NY, but also the fact that the main investors are all based there as well.

I have no idea if the charges (and there are many, many of them) leveled at Nielsen are accurate or not, but it's somewhat amazing that we haven't seen more such charges. The lawsuit does suggest similar problems in the odd combination of "Florida, Turkey, the Philippines and across the planet." The lawsuit expands each of those charges into paragraph levels, but with no citations or backup. For example, this is how it explains Florida:
In Florida, many television broadcasters have been complaining about inaccurate ratings data resulting from inadequate sample sizes. Those television broadcasters have been unable to get alternate ratings because Nielsen has a monopoly in that market.
Seems somewhat lacking without more details. Either way, if anything, this should simply raise questions about why we use systems like Nielsen? Nielsen boxes have always been somewhat questionable, providing tremendous influence to the small number of people who have them. In a data-driven, always connected age, it would seem that there are much more effective -- and much more robust -- means of tracking what people are watching on TV.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 4:20pm

    Evolve or die.

    ...were it not for the monopoly Nielson has on ratings, I'm sure a more realistic and robust system would have come out years ago.

    For example, if you have a YouTube channel, you can get accurate analytics of who/when/where/age-group your video is being watched. It's really neat.

    Why doesn't cable TV have this? Oh yeah, because there's a solid monopoly and they have absolutely no reason to innovate or improve.

     

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  2.  
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    sehlat (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 4:20pm

    Manipulation Has Been Known For A Long Time

    Danny DeVito's "The Ratings Game" turned what everybody already knew thirty years ago into a massively funny comedy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 4:30pm

    Re: Evolve or die.

    Or keep feinting when you battle stronger pogymans :P

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    PRMan, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 4:41pm

    Actually...

    Actually, Nielsen has gone to 3-day DVR ratings aggregates with all the major DVR providers about 5 years ago. So, they left the archaic notebook systems with logs a long time ago.

    Of course, if you leave your DVR on, it's hard for them to tell if you watched the next show or not, but maybe that's why all the DVRs are going to power save now.

     

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  5.  
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    SilverBlade, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 4:42pm

    The Nielsen system is old, outdated, and obsolete.

    Why haven't the networks been able to get hyper-accurate numbers from people watching their show? It IS doable over the web, so why aren't networks or advertisers demanding this?

     

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  6.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 5:06pm

    Re: Evolve or die.

    People seek to preserve the problem for which the are the solution.

     

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  7.  
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    lucidrenegade (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 5:20pm

    Ain't a lot of people watching TV in India right now...

     

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  8.  
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    Josh (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 6:14pm

    I always wondered how they got those ratings. I figured they could just see me through my TV or something.

     

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  9.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 6:31pm

    I've always wondered why this hasn't happened before. Nielsen families represent something like 1% of TV watchers, yet billions of dollars are based on their numbers? If I was an advertiser, I wouldn't want to spend thousands of dollars on one commercial based on a subset of people smaller then the margin of error.

    As has been pointed out before, Youtube has accurate analytics that even get double checked after 300 views. why aren't advertisers falling over themselves to support this system?

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 6:57pm

    Re:

    So to you Television was like the telescreens in 1984?

    Holy shit that would be disturbing.

     

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  11.  
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    Dave (profile), Jul 31st, 2012 @ 6:58pm

    Cable Data

    If my understanding of what Neilson is after is correct (and that is certainly suspect), the cable companies can and do collect data on all of their channels from all of their subscribers. Couldn't they sell that data to Neilson, at least the bulk numbers of how many sets are tuned to what. The cable boxes know.

     

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  12.  
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    Rekrul, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 7:05pm

    Re:

    I've always wondered why this hasn't happened before. Nielsen families represent something like 1% of TV watchers, yet billions of dollars are based on their numbers? If I was an advertiser, I wouldn't want to spend thousands of dollars on one commercial based on a subset of people smaller then the margin of error.

    Clearly you don't understand statistics. You only need to sample .00000000000000001% to get a 100% accurate picture of what everyone wants. How else do you think that they know to keep the shows that everyone watches, like Dancing With the Stars, and to cancel the stuff that nobody wants, like Terra Nova?

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 7:12pm

    Re:

    Because they are technology illiterate old idiots, just like the TV executives are. They figure they've been working together for years, so it must be good business.

     

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  14.  
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    Jeremy, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 7:14pm

    This is another reason that Television is dying. Google gets it, they have data, and metadata, and metadata on the metadata on their customer base. Television could have done this and remained potent as an ad medium, it didn't.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 8:53pm

    Even a corrupt ratings company like Moody's has competition. I wonder why there is no competition for Nielsen's? Their customers should really be clamoring for it.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 31st, 2012 @ 10:14pm

    Re:

    It's called "sampling". It's actually remarkably accurate, try reading about it.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 5:32am

    Re: Re:

    >It's called "sampling". It's actually remarkably accurate, try reading about it.

    Oh it can be accurate but some of the Nielsen selection criteria worked against accuracy. I was on the survey book in 1998. I liked doing it but they would call you. You had to be willing to answer your land line for unidentified numbers.

    I got calls back because I used to watch Tech TV and I guess I was a fairly rare bird in the the sampling. They wanted specific feedback on the Screen savers among other things. A whole series of 1 to 5 ratings. You could tell by the questions they asked that they were figuring out how to fix what wasn't broken.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 6:26am

    Re: Re:

    Indeed, Rekrul, overall the size of their sample is good. However, the methodology for generating sub-ratings is highly, highly, suspect, with some "Local" ratings for fairly large cities using something like 20 households. Also, their systems are prone to bad data entry, especially for demographics.

    But the real question is why use this fairly complex system when they can easily survey all DVRs (and probably all televisions)?

     

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  19.  
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    Hothmonster, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 7:00am

    Hurrah the digital age, we can now monitor every cable and satellite subscribers viewing habits in real time! We can know the the true viewing numbers for anything and can even see when people switch the channel.

    But a lot of old guys have money in this Nielsen thing so we will keep just monitoring a few thousand families per country and extrapolate that for the hundreds of millions of people actually watching TV because we wouldn't want to upset these useless old rich fucks.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 7:02am

    Re: Actually...

    Source? I am under the impression they still only monitor a small fraction of TV viewers and then guess at shows actual ratings.

    http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/about-us/nielsen-families.html

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 7:06am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Because if you allowed the cable companies to just query their DVRs for actual usage reports then these useless fucks who invested in Nielsen 50 years ago and have been making millions for doing bad math since then would have to find real work.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 7:09am

    Re: Re:

    It can be remarkably accurate, I don't believe it is for this situation though. With hundreds of millions of people watching thousands of channels their very small randomly selected sample does not do a good job of accurately reflecting viewership. Try reading about it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 7:10am

    Re: Cable Data

    Not only can they not sell it to Neilson I am pretty sure they can't even show it to the networks. Don't want people stepping on their data monopoly.

     

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  24.  
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    Wolfy, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 7:41am

    Somewhat off-topic, but I've been wondering why all broadcasters don't just stream to the web (commercials and all). The broadcasters would KNOW how many web viewers they had for any given show, and could take those hard numbers to their advertisers, along with whatever Nielson estimates they use for the normal operations.

    The answer is: Too Many Lawyers.

     

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  25.  
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    Todd E, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 8:41am

    So the networks are using Neilsen

    Like a game of Brokkian Ultra Krikket?

     

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  26.  
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    sheenyglass (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 10:29am

    Re: Re: Re:

    These serious and well known flaws in data collection shows yet another way in which the broadcasters shoot themselves in the foot by treating online viewing as a second tier platform. Assuming the figures are validated by a third party with no interest in juicing the stats (for example by placing independent auditors in-house), you can get nearly perfect numbers on how many times shows are viewed online. The numbers will be less accurate as to how many individual viewers there are, but for the purposes of ad sales I can't imagine its a bad think if people are watching shows multiple times. After all the benefits of tv ads seem to come from repetition hammering the brand into the consumers very soul.

    I can only guess that there are still existing contractual relationships and/or embedded customs in the industry which lead contracts to explicitly use Nielsen ratings as benchmarks for compensation/ad rates.

     

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  27.  
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    sheenyglass (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 11:23am

    "It's interesting to see that Nielsen, nominally a Dutch company, is being sued by an Indian TV company... in the state of NY."

    It looks like the suit is under the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act), which is a US law. I'm not sure if the Netherlands has an equivalent, but that might be one reason. In the US, New York has the most experience with complex international commercial suits (probably more than Dutch Courts), so it is the logical forum state.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re:

    *Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap*

    Voice from TV: Hullo, citizen! How are y-...just what the hell are you doing?!?

    *Fap Fap Fap* [pause]

    *Shrug*

    *Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap Fap*

     

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  29.  
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    Rekrul, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 2:45pm

    Re: Re:

    Well, I asked three people and two of them said that they don't believe the Nielsen ratings are accurate, so there you have it. 66% of the people think the Nielsen ratings are garbage!

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2012 @ 7:49pm

    Re: Re:

    Biz Markie got sued over it.

     

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  31.  
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    32 Tech Guy, Feb 20th, 2013 @ 9:20am

    monopoly secure

    Over a decade ago my college roomates and I were notebook loggers for the nielsens. Like most we know, we selected shows we liked not those we actually had time to watch.

    Shows that deserved attention but didnt get it from mainstream. We also tried to help kill popular shows we despised.

    Im sure favortism an games like that play out across their families.

    After this years later we created a startup and worked with set top box makers to allow cable companies to collect data anonymously (or not) for program creators.

    The result of honest accurate real time collection? Lets just say that crap like American Idol isint nearly as popular as they want you to think.. have faith in the american public.

    That said the threats and legal action against us concerning privacy and other trumped up issues and we were dead on arrival.

    But thats just the way they want it.
    Id love to have the financial backing to make another stab

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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