Sunbeam Drops Trade Claim, Pursues Monopoly Charge

Sunbeam Television, which owns the Fox station in Miami, has dropped two charges against Nielsen that alleged the measurement company engaged in unfair trade practices and breach of contract. Instead, Sunbeam intends to focus on separate allegations that Nielsen has operated a monopoly and violated antitrust laws in South Florida.

Sunbeam, however, faces an uphill climb in succeeding in the antitrust arena. Judge Paul C. Huck, overseeing Sunbeam's case against Nielsen in Miami federal district court, issued a ruling earlier this month that turned aside Sunbeam's charges about a Nielsen monopoly.

While that decision is appealed, Sunbeam to find an appellate judge willing to hear the case. A representative said the company opted not to move ahead with the trade practices and contract matters in order to "focus on the antitrust part" of the case filed against Nielsen in 2009.

Nielsen, for its part, has won a victory with Judge Huck's ruling and now has avoided the two charges. A Nielsen representative said "there are no further claims currently pending against Nielsen in this lawsuit."

The case has roots in Nielsen bringing local people meters to Miami to generate ratings in the market. Sunbeam has said in court papers that the implementation has hurt its business with a loss of $1 million-plus in lost ad dollars a month, while the value of the Fox affiliate, WSVN, has dropped by $100 million-plus.

In court papers, Sunbeam cited significant ratings drops for its late news and "American Idol" broadcasts once the LPMs were in place.

Also, Sunbeam alleged that Nielsen blocked competitors from entering Miami, which might offer an alternate ratings system. It also charged that Nielsen has used monopoly power to inflate prices, raising the amount WSVN had to pay by 20% in 2008. That ties into the now-dropped breach-of-contract claim.

Sunbeam noted that it agreed to pay Nielsen about $66,000 a month starting in 2007, which would escalate to about $88,000 over the 57-month length of the contract. Court filings noted it paid its bills, but Nielsen knowingly provided defective ratings and failed to correct the process.

Sunbeam also owns an NBC-CW duopoly in Boston.

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