Fox To Audit Nielsen's Books, Retains Researcher To Probe Drop In Young Men Ratings

Apparently dissatisfied with Nielsen's reasons for the decline in viewing among young men (see story below), Fox Broadcasting Corp. said Monday afternoon that it had hired an "independent research firm" to help figure out why most of the networks have seen often-dramatic drops in viewing among men 18-24 and men 18-34. Nielsen Media Research said Fox had hired Norm Hecht, who reps many large station groups. Nielsen said it's shared lots of data with Hecht.

Fox said that its work, along with Fox's research department, was taking precedence over Nielsen's own explanations.

"We're less interested in their so-called White Paper than we are in our own analysis of their numbers," Fox Television Entertainment Group Sandy Grushow said in a conference call with reporters near the end of the November sweeps. Grushow and executives at other networks piled on Nielsen's measurement, which has been the focus of many head-scratching moments at the network and agency level ever since the beginning of the season.



Jeff Zucker, president of entertainment at NBC, echoed many of the network executives' concerns that there was something wrong with the measurement.

"Clearly, there's an issue with Nielsen and the sample," Zucker said. "It's clear if you look at the returning shows. For example, if you look at sports, it can't be that football ratings are up 2 percent yet male 18-24 ratings are down 22 percent." He reeled off numbers on other shows, including his own network's "Fear Factor," but also mentioning the cream of the crop of the other networks, including "24" and "The Simpsons" (Fox), "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Survivor" (CBS), and "Monday Night Football" (ABC). Grushow, when told of "The Simpsons" claim, said the sitcom was down only about 7 percent in the demographic.

Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC, said that it's been his experience that there haven't been declines except when it was a sample problem.

"When you look at these declines [in young-men ratings] over returning shows, across all the networks, there's got to be something wrong," Wurtzel said.

Lloyd Braun, chairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group, told reporters that he wasn't willing to comment before the White Paper was released and the network had a chance to look at it.

"Let's take a look at this report before weighing in," Braun said.

"We'll leave that to David Poltrack, who seems to be handling it just fine," Susan Lyne, president of ABC Entertainment Television Group, said of CBS TV's senior vice president of research.

While no one was willing to single out one factor for the ratings drop - other than, of course, Nielsen's method of measurement - some seemed to allude to changes in the National Hispanic Television Index or perhaps the hard-to-count male 18-24 demographic.

"You really are getting the sense the problems are concentrated in those groups that have historically been the most challenging for Nielsen to measure," said Giles Lundberg, executive vice president of research and marketing at Fox.

"We don't know the answer," said Grushow. "We're obviously committed to trying to figure it out, but it's going to be a while as to when we'll get a sense of the whole picture."

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