NEW YORK – Nielsen Media Research (search) outlined several steps Wednesday to better reflect the television viewing habits of blacks and Hispanics, including paying families more to measure what they watch.
Nielsen also said it agreed with a task force's recommendation that it purposely oversample minorities in the company's research.
The company that has a monopoly on measuring TV viewing habits appointed a panel last year to recommend changes after concerns were expressed about its new technology (electronic meters, rather than paper diaries).
Some blacks and Hispanics say the new system undercounts them and, as a result, threatens the future of their favorite shows. The Fox network's corporate parent has supported these protest efforts.
The task force concluded Nielsen's new People Meter technology was superior to the old diary system, but that the company needed to do more to make sure minorities participate.
Nielsen said it agreed with the recommendation to pay more, and to reward individuals in a household instead of the family as a whole. Nielsen won't say how much families are paid — it's considered to be a nominal fee — and it also gives gifts like backpacks or books to thank participants.
The company also plans to reward families who have a good participation rate. While the People Meters electronically reflect what a TV set is tuned to, participants need to punch in codes to tell the company who in the household is watching.
Because minority homes tend to have higher "default" rates — meaning the data is no good because the codes aren't punched in — Nielsen said it would purposely sample more minority homes than it normally would.
That's expected to be controversial among its clients, spokesman Jack Loftus said. But Nielsen promised that it would weigh these numbers to make sure the final sample accurately reflects the population, he said.
Cynthia Rotunno, executive director of the Don't Count Us Out coalition, said the task force had done outstanding work and made strong recommendations that should be quickly put in place.
"Given the history of Nielsen and its status as an unregulated monopoly, we continue to believe that the timely and continued implementation of these recommendations requires independent oversight," Rotunno said.
Her group has been trying to interest Congress in setting up some sort of governmental oversight of Nielsen, which the company has resisted.