Fox Lashes Out At Nielsen Over Low 'American Idol' Ratings


Even though American Idol regularly pulls in more than 20 million viewers a week, the show’s ratings have been down all season from what they were last year. Meanwhile, the number of votes determining who gets eliminated have been at record highs.

What’s going on here? Are people DVR’ing Idol, voting for their favourites without watching the show or both? Probably, but Fox now has a new scapegoat for low Idol ratings. The culprit isn’t a DVR box; it’s the Nielsen PeopleMeter in select viewers’ homes.

A recent Nielsen study of how people use the meter showed that enough viewers punch the meter incorrectly, particularly when watching TV in large groups, that national ratings could be off by 8%.

And now Fox and the other networks are furious:

It’s so irritating how they handle these things,” Fox Networks Group CEO Tony Vinciquerra told Variety. “All evidence points to people watching more TV. Yet the numbers are going down. I’m having a hard time reconciling all of these facts

“I want to know what are they going to do about it.” he said. “How are they going to fix it?”

Fox called a meeting with Nielsen last week to try and get some answers, but they weren’t happy with what they heard.

“They didn’t give an explanation,” Vinciquerra said. “We need far more specifics and evidence of what’s going on. Why not try to fix this going into this upfront period? We pay millions of dollars for this stuff.”

Vinciquerra believes Nielsen’s inaccuracy is doing broadcast networks and advertisers a disservice going into upfronts week:

“It’s affecting every advertiser planning their marketing schedule,” he said. “They’re wondering, ‘What am I really getting? Is this the real number?’ They need to know which shows are doing better than the numbers being reported. From the broadcast network perspective, I’m not sure we’re getting a fair shake.”

ABC Entertainment head Steve McPherson and the president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, Anne Sweeney are equally frustrated.

McPherson told TV Week (via Variety), “[M]ore people are watching television than ever before, so there’s something of a disconnect between what really seems to be happening and the Nielsen measurements.”

While Sweeney was more explicit: “What the heck is going on?” she asked the LA Times’  Company Town blog this morning.

Sweeney says ABC’s also been having meetings with Nielsen but thinks there need to be more discussions.

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