In an escalating dispute between the broadcast networks and Nielsen Media Research, Fox Broadcasting Co. has asked the firm to stop publishing its ratings for NFL football and to "correct" the measurements for the first 12 weeks of the season.
"Nielsen is publishing unbelievable and incorrect ratings for NFL football this season," Giles Lundberg, vice president of research at Fox, said Wednesday. "Their unwillingness to address this issue is the straw that's breaking the camel's back in our long list of complaints about the Nielsen ratings system. Their flawed numbers are having a serious impact on a franchise we paid $1 billion for."
If Nielsen does not make changes that will "accurately reflect" football viewership, Lundberg said, Fox will consider such options as legal action or support for an alternative ratings system.
Sources said that Fox and NBC are losing millions of dollars in "make-goods" to advertisers because of a drop in football ratings. According to Nielsen data, the ratings for NFL football are down 10% from last year on Fox and 3% on NBC.
Executives at Fox and NBC say the drop is because of a recent change in the sample of homes used by Nielsen to calculate TV ratings. Officials at the NFL are so concerned about the disputed drop that they joined Fox executives in a recent, heated meeting with Nielsen executives.
In a related action, Neil Braun, president of the NBC network, has written a nine-page letter to Nielsen outlining the network's complaints about the Nielsen system.
Sources said the letter included complaints about the football ratings as well as previous complaints that Nielsen undercounts network viewing and overcounts cable viewing.
Jack Loftus, a spokesman for Nielsen, said the company stands by its numbers on NFL football.