Sunbeam Television files suit against Nielsen ratings
WSVN -- When you watch a TV show, the Nielsen Ratings Company is supposed to keep track of it, but now in South Florida, Nielsen is being accused of ignoring you. Patrick Fraser has this special report.
Ed Ansin, owner, WSVN: "It's a very bad situation ... it's a very bad situation."
Ed Ansin is the President of Sunbeam Television and the owner of WSVN-TV.
He told his employees he is suing the Nielsen Ratings Service for violating federal anti-trust laws. Specifically, the lawsuit accuses the company of abusing its power and running a monopoly.
Michael Gass, WSVN attorney: "We think the case has strong merit. We believe that the actions of Nielsen have clearly harmed WSVN and others."
The suit came after a change in the way Nielsen gathered its ratings in South Florida. For decades they paid viewers to write down what they watched. In October, they switched to people meters, an electronic measuring system attached to TVs. The next day, WSVN's ratings dramatically dropped morning, noon and night.
Ed Ansin: "Suddenly, as of Oct. 1 of last year, about 50 percent of the young audience, the young adult audience disappeared, vanished."
Right now, the people meters are being used in 21 of the nation's 200 television markets. Critics of the devices say they do not accurately reflect young viewers, blacks and Hispanics, the perfect example came in South Florida with American Idol.
Ed Ansin: "Which is of course the leading show in the country, and American Idol overnight lost 50 percent of its audience. This is impossible. Suddenly we didn't lose 50 percent of the audience, and nobody else in the country did. That doesn't make any sense."
Patrick Fraser: "Anti-trust lawsuits are extremely complicated, but one point seems clear: Either Nielsen's ratings for the past 20 years were flawed before they switched to people meters, or they are flawed now that they have switched to people meters. Ansin asked, which is it? Nielsen's answer: neither."
Ed Ansin: "Oh, it's extremely frustrating, and in talking to them, it's frustrating because what they tell you is illogical and doesn't make any sense."
Frustrating and financially devastating. According to the lawsuit, Nielsen's claim that half the audience quit watching lowered the value of WSVN by $100 million, and the station's ad revenue dropped dramatically.
Ed Ansin: "It hurts in terms of the million dollars a month we are no longer receiving from advertisers. We are selling at lower rates, much lower rates, and that threatens the whole operation."
The Media Ratings Council, set up by the government to oversee companies like Nielsen, refused to accrediate the ratings system in South Florida because it did not meet their minimum standards, but Nielsen put it in operation anyway because the lawsuit claims the company wanted to tap into the lucrative cable market.
Michael Gass: "It enables Nielsen to sell to local cable operators, which previously had not been a customer to Nielsen's or any other ratings agencies."
A spokesman for Nielsen said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment yet.
If this were any other business, Ansin would go hire another ratings service, but, according to the lawsuit, because Nielsen is a monopoly, it blocks other companies from getting into the ratings business, leaving Ansin with one option... court.
Ed Ansin: "It will be expensive, and it will be a long, hard journey, but we really ended up with no choice, and ultimately we determined the only option was to file an anti-trust suit."
If Ansin wins the lawsuit, it could help stations across the country, but he plans to go it alone and foot the bill for the lawsuit himself.
(Copyright 2009 by Sunbeam Television Corp. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)