Minneapolis, Cleveland TV stations worry about LPMs

If you think radio stations in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles are worrying about Arbitron’s Portable People Meters – then you haven’t seen anything yet.

Television executives in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Cleveland are sweating it out over the next several months as Local People Meters – or LPMs, become the standard of measurement for television ratings measured by Nielsen. Both markets’ new systems went live Aug. 28.

Like Arbitron’s Portable Peter Meters (PPMs), Nielsen’s LPMs uses an electronic device which essentially replaces paper diaries as a way to measure audiences. Both devices also measure demographics more accurately, which is more value to advertisers. LPMs establishes overnight ratings from demos quickly in a market – instead of the standard four books a year from the old diary system. The current meter system in both markets measures household numbers only.

Usually, younger-skewing outlets (like CW, My Network TV affiliates, and independents) are happier with the new method since ratings usually go up after a switch from diaries, but older, established stations aren’t usually happy because their ratings usually go down.

That’s the case with CBS-owned WCCO-TV and Hubbard’s ABC affiliate (KSTP-TV) in Minneapolis. Ratings for both stations dropped in a trial run earlier this summer (known as pre-currency.) But Fox’s KMSP and Gannett-owned NBC affiliate KARE-TV were actually pleased.

Ironically, Fox was opposed to LPMs in 2004 -when Rupert Murdoch blasted Nielsen officials for their under-measurement of minority audiences on his UPN stations, which aired programs targeting African-Americans. However, their concerns “disappeared” in 2006 when UPN folded into The WB and became The CW, leaving Murdoch’s stations behind. Those former UPN stations later became My Network TV affiliates.

In Cleveland, many stations were unhappy with the system – either with the lowered ratings or the high cost of it, or both. Strangely enough, while KARE was happy with the LPMs, its sister corporate station in Cleveland (former NBC O&O WKYC-TV) was not.

Meanwhile, Raycom’s respective CBS and My Network TV affiliates (WOIO and WUAB) hopes to persuade Nielsen to rethink its cost for the new system. And the expense is also likely to affect locally-owned CW affiliate WBNX-TV as well.

Nielsen is pushing the LPM as a more accurate way of measuring ratings in both households and demos, by using larger samples and better technology – much in the same way Arbitron is pushing the PPM to measure radio. Usually when LPMs are introduced in a market, stations targeting younger audiences generally do better in the ratings; older-skewing outlets fare a little worse. However, when LPMs were introduced in Chicago in 2004, it didn’t drastically shake up the market like many thought: ABC-owned WLS-TV remained on top, while others (like CBS’ WBBM-TV and Fox’s WFLD-TV) still struggled in a few dayparts.

Nielsen plans to have all of its 56 metered markets using LPMs by 2011. This month, Miami and Denver rollout their systems; that will be followed by Orlando, Sacramento, and St. Louis come January. Milwaukee gets its LPM system launched in April 2010.

Whether stations, community groups, and others like it or not, the Local People Meters – and the Portable People Meters – are here to stay. Their whining isn’t likely to deter Nielsen or Arbitron from what they need to do -to provide a more accurate system of audience measurement, which has been lacking for decades.