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While you watch TV, Nielsen watches you

They look pretty much like ordinary remote controls, but the Nielsen people meters that came to South Florida eight months ago are going to change a lot more on your television than the channels.

Nielsen Less local news. More reality and talk shows. Fewer cop dramas -- maybe even the death of a CSI or a Law & Order -- and more specialty cable channels. Not as many commercials, but the characters on your favorite sitcom may develop a sudden thirst for Coca-Cola, and an odd knack for holding the can right toward the camera. More TV programs on the Internet; more reruns and Jerry Springer clones on broadcast channels.

The people meter itself won't fire reporters, sign product placement deals, or recruit promiscuous Nazi dwarves to tell their stories on Springer's show. But by offering more details than ever before on what's being watched and by whom, television executives and analysts say the device will be the catalyst for the industry's most drastic changes since the days when Milton Berle and Howdy Doody ruled the airwaves.

''We're getting much closer to learning what's actually happening out there among viewers,'' says Tom Bierbaum, NBC's vice president in charge of ratings research. ``And it's motivating television people to investigate and build toward other business models.'' Read my full story in Sunday's Miami Herald.

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