BOB GARFIELD: The traditional method of measuring television audiences has been the Nielsen Ratings Diary, a booklet filled out by each household member in a selected Nielsen family. For 15 years those data have been supplemented by set-top meters which measure household TV usage for rough national audience measurement, minus all the demographic details so important to advertisers. But now in Boston, the nation's sixth largest consumer market, Nielsen has replaced the diaries all together with a local set-top people meter that household users activate with personal pin numbers to record their individual viewing habits. But the TV stations in Boston want nothing to do with people meters. Joining us now to discuss this is Dan Trigoboff, senior editor for Broadcasting and Cable Magazine. Dan, welcome to OTM.
DAN TRIGOBOFF: Hi, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Hasn't there been a, a sharp difference in the audiences as measured in the old diary method and the audience sizes as measured by the electronic method?
DAN TRIGOBOFF: In Boston, in fact, that is true. But Boston has always been a market with lower what we call HUT levels -- Homes Using Television levels. Still, the executives there believe that the local people meters are measuring less viewership than actually exists.
BOB GARFIELD:The stakes here are enormously high because if the size of the audience is demonstrated by technology to be smaller than that which was previously believed, then advertising revenue also will diminish proportionately. Is that why the Boston TV stations are up in arms?
DAN TRIGOBOFF: It's a reason, but again they will tell you that it's not that simple. I mean I haven't heard any television executive say we disfavor the local people meters because it shows us to have a smaller audience than we previously believed. They feel that the reason the audience is showing smaller has more to do with flaws in the technology or flaws in the sampling.
BOB GARFIELD: So the upshot is that they've boycotted the local people meters, and, and what have been the results of that.
DAN TRIGOBOFF:Well it's probably not a particularly bad time to do it, according to what I'm told; the market is strong; they've got some important political races in Massachusetts and what you've seen substituting for the standard model of cost per point between advertiser and media, they're simply saying it's supply and demand.
BOB GARFIELD:When the political season is over, and the political consultants cease to be lining up outside the door to try to get the most favorable spots on the-- the afternoon news broadcasts, will they still be able to operate in the absence of good data?]
DAN TRIGOBOFF: Well that is an excellent question. It is a question I asked to a television executive and-- I, I think that factors can change between now and then, and that may be what the station executives are hoping for -- they're hoping that the rest of the economy picks up. While the stock market is not doing well, I'm told that the Boston advertising market is pretty strong. The advertisers do go in knowing what the numbers are, and if they believe those numbers they're, they're going to have to make a decision at some point whether to pay more for the cost per point as assigned by this new technology or - or not - or to go somewhere where the rates are cheaper or seem cheaper. They'll have to determine is television giving me, you know, the bang for the buck that I want.
BOB GARFIELD:All right. The latest wrinkle in this story is the news that WGBH, the public television station in Boston, has broken the boycott and is a client of Nielsen for the local people meter data. What effect will that have on the TV market in Boston and on the boycott itself?
DAN TRIGOBOFF: Look, I would not think it would have that much because they, they don't participate in the revenue market the way the other stations do. They are not advertising sellers. When I called GBH last week, they said the reason they did it was they've - they do a lot of shows that go nationally and they want to be able to tell their underwriters how well their shows are doing. So they feel they needed that information. But none of the big stations have broken ranks as yet, and there's been no indication that any is about to.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Dan Trigoboff, thank you very much.
DAN TRIGOBOFF:Thank you. I hope [LAUGHS] it isn't too complex. It is - believe me - as difficult for us who cover the industry to understand as it is probably for your listeners.
BOB GARFIELD: Oh, it's all crystal clear.
DAN TRIGOBOFF: I'm sure. [LAUGHS] [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: Dan Trigoboff is a senior editor for Broadcasting and Cable Magazine. [MUSIC]
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