O'Reilly Vs. Olbermann: Feud Moves From Trash Talk To Trashing Nielsen Ratings

A bloody on-air feud between Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has taken a surprising turn in recent weeks, moving from trash talk to trashing Nielsen's TV ratings for the fledgling Fox Business News Channel. What makes the development so surprising is that Nielsen has yet to release any ratings for the new business network, and the on-air rants are likely not-so-veiled references to highly preliminary ratings data that Fox and NBC have purchased from Nielsen.

The spectacle has even blossomed a viral component, including a YouTube video outtake of one of Olberbmann's MSNBC diatribes labeled ""Olbermann Trashing FNC Research" that has led some industry observers to question whether Nielsen has a role in sanctioning the use of its data in such a highly public forum.

A Nielsen spokesman said such data is available for purchase by any client, but said it was unclear whether there were any restrictions on publicizing them.

One of the problems with citing the data, research experts say, is that it typically takes Nielsen more than two months after the launch of a new network to build an accurate TV universe estimate to base its ratings estimates on. Nielsen executives expect to have completed their universe estimate for Fox Business News Channel in another few weeks. The preliminary Fox Business News Channel ratings purchased to date have been based on Nielsen's national TV universe estimates.

Meanwhile, Madison Avenue is eagerly awaiting the release of Fox Business News Channel's official ratings to see if they're ready to do business. Nielsen's rules for reporting audience estimates require a rating of 0.1 or higher, and it is unlikely that Fox Business News Channel, which is only available in some 30 million cable households, is generating that kind of number nationally.

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