Out of Wrack

Fox Networks Group head Tony Vinciquerra is not happy, and he doesn't care who knows it.

At least that was the case in late May when Vinciquerra told Daily Variety he was frustrated with Nielsen Media Research after the firm admitted its ratings might be off by as much as 8 percent, due to reporting inaccuracies. Since then, Fox has softened its criticisms of the agency, but Vinciquerra is far from the only TV executive to voice concerns about Nielsen's numbers in recent months. One network exec who declined to be identified for this story said he wasn't surprised by the underreporting admission. "It's horrible, but it's Nielsen," he says. "Because there is such a monopoly, we've all been beaten into thinking, 'What are we going to do?' The screaming at Nielsen has been going on for years, but maybe it's a little louder now and is happening at higher levels."

According to Nielsen, the 8 percent figure itself was a misnomer. Although an internal quality test designed to quantify users' button-pushing behavior did reveal errors of up to 8 percent in terms of survey respondent numbers, that does not necessarily translate into a differential between actual and reported viewing, Nielsen maintained. "The button-pushing test was not set up to quantify a differential, but to better understand if there were differences in different groups so we could improve overall button-pushing," said Gary Holmes, Nielsen's chief press officer, in an email response. "We did, in fact, learn that compliance in large group viewing tends to taper off as the group gets larger. With that knowledge in hand, we are developing new coaching techniques that will emphasize button-pushing during group meetings."

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