LOS ANGELES -- Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications Inc. sued to block Nielsen's new TV ratings system, arguing Thursday that it will drastically undercount Hispanics.
Nielsen Media Research knows the "Local People Meter" system is flawed and is guilty of unfair, unlawful and deceptive business practices by promoting it, according to the suit filed late Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
It seeks to block the company's planned July 8 launch of a Los Angeles version of the LPM system, which Nielsen already is using in New York and Boston and plans to implement in Chicago in August.
Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus in New York said Thursday that the company had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment.
Nielsen, which has a monopoly on counting TV viewers, is switching to the electronic system for measuring local habits that it contends will be far more accurate. Currently, 500 households in a city are asked to record their TV viewing in a diary kept during four "sweeps" months. Nielsen is increasing its sample to 800 homes per city and measuring viewing every day through the "people meter" device attached to televisions.
But critics say dry runs of the system have shown sharply lower ratings for some programs popular in black and Hispanic homes, which could harm advertising for those programs.
"Nielsen's own data indicates that the sample on which it is basing its LPM ratings is fundamentally flawed, as it dramatically undercounts young Hispanic-Americans and large Hispanic families and overstates Hispanic-American households that speak mostly or only English," according to a statement from Los Angeles-based Univision.
The ratings system will "exaggerate viewing to English-language stations, causing irreparable damage to Univision," the company claimed.
"Nielsen data is the only industry measuring tool that is available to guide advertisers in placing their television dollars, and where those dollars get placed directly affects the ability of television networks and stations to develop and air quality information and entertainment programming for their audiences," Ray Rodriguez, President of the Univision Television Networks, said in a statement.
The National Latino Media Council issued a study last winter that charged the new system would underrepresent the growing Hispanic market. The study found, for instance, that Nielsen did not include enough U.S.-born Hispanics in its sample.