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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.

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Companies: ndtv, nielsen

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Comments on “Nielsen Sued For Billions; TV Network Claims It Manipulated Ratings”

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:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

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.

PRMan (profile) says:


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.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

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?

Rekrul says:

Re: 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?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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)?

sheenyglass (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Hothmonster says:

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.

Wolfy says:

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.

sheenyglass (profile) says:

“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.

32 Tech Guy says:

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

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