NDTV takes Nielsen to court – looking to punish the top officials

New Delhi Television Limited has taken the global TV rating agency Nielsen to court for billions of dollars for allegedly manipulating viewership data, a media report said

NDTV is now demanding significant damages: At least $810 million for fraud, at least $580 million for negligence and hundreds of millions more for a range of causes, including tortuous interference and breach of fiduciary duty. NDTV is also looking to punish Nielsen's top corporate officers.

In a document filed with the New York state Supreme Court, NDTV alleged that executives at Television Audience Measurement, known as TAM, took bribes to fix ratings for channels. TAM is an Indian company in which Nielsen Research Services Pvt. Ltd. holds a 50% stake, while Kantar Media Research Pvt. Ltd. and Cavendish Square Holdings B.V. hold 20% and 30%, respectively.

TAM was formed in 1998 by Kantar and Nielsen to implement Nielsen's process of collecting and analyzing television viewership data in the Indian market.

The New Delhi-based television channel said Nielsen and Kantar ignored its repeated warnings of the flaws in TAM's process of collecting viewership data.

NDTV also accused Nielsen and Kantor of operating worldwide through a complex web of subsidiaries and joint ventures and abusing the power of TAM's monopoly in India. TAM is India's only TV ratings firm.

NDTV also accused Nielsen and Kantor of operating worldwide through a complex web of subsidiaries and joint ventures and abusing the power of TAM's monopoly in India. TAM is India's only TV ratings firm.

The suit alleged the defendants’ acts have had a “catastrophic effects on customers, on the television industry, on customers and on viewers” around the world including the United States.

NDTV claims that a number of independent as well as syndicated surveys, conducted by international firms including Nielsen in the past few years, have consistently demonstrated NDTV 24x7's leadership in the English news market.

However, the viewership data released weekly by TAM in India during those periods shows the news channels of NDTV to exhibit a very low viewership. Such a large discrepancy between survey data and people meter data is statistically impossible, unequivocally indicating manipulation and corruption in the data.

How tampering occurred was revealed by NDTV’s executive vice chairperson Narayan Rao, who in a report on falsification of PeopleMeters, presented to the board of directors of News Broadcasters Association said that people were identifying houses that had PeopleMeters installed in them and manipulating them in such a manner that the meters would report viewership of particular channels by umpteen guests, even though the television set was on in an empty room.

Mr. Rao said, that this was done by “providing a separate TV in select panel homes for viewing while the TV linked to the meter was tuned to specified channels [and] misusing the guest button where up to 10 guests can be shown watching even when there is no one there.”

A Nielsen spokesman said the firm “has a longstanding policy of not commenting on pending legal matters.”

NDTV’s stock was trading broadly flat at 52.90 rupees on Wednesday.

NDTV is also looking to punish Nielsen's top corporate officers and demanding that the company essentially be kicked out of the country.

"The lawsuit contains merely allegations against the venerable ratings research company that operates in more than 100 countries, earns more than USD 5 billion a year and has been around since 1923. But if proved, they could be very serious," the report said.

Last year, Sunbeam Television had charged Nielsen with operating a monopoly by blocking competitors from entering the South Florida DMA.

It was alleged that Nielsen's local people meters undercount viewers, which has hurt its station's ratings and cost it $1 million a month in ad revenue. Sunbeam had also said in court papers that the value of its station, WSVN, had fallen by $100 million.

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