Sunbeam Television, the company that owns WSVN-Fox 7 in South Florida as well as NBC and CW affiliates in Boston, has just filed a federal antitrust suit against Nielsen Media Research, accusing the TV-ratings company of engaging in monopolistic practices as well as wrecking WSVN's business with "defective ratings data" that seriously understates the station's audience.
The suit is aimed at Nielsen's new people meter technology that replaced paper diaries filled out by viewers with new set-top boxes that automatically monitor who's watching what. The people meters, now in use in 21 of the largest U.S. television markets, have been controversial because they've registered more viewers for cable shows -- and fewer for broadcast shows -- than the old diary system. They've also been accused of undercounting minority viewers, and Nielsen itself admitted earlier this week that there are glitches in some of the data.
The suit doesn't specify the amount of damages Sunbeam is seeking, but it's going to be substantial: The suit says WSBN has lost $10 million a month in advertising since introduction of the people meters, and the station's value has plummeted $100 million. Check back later for more.
UPDATE: Nielsen, not surprisingly, isn't rolling over. "This case is utterly without merit," a Nielsen spokesman says. "The TV ratings we are providing to Miami are more accurate than any previous measurement of this market and our sample is representative of the Miami population. We believe that WSVN had other reasons for bringing this case than the ones stated in the complaint and we will be responding to it vigorously."