NEWS3 September 2009

Sunbeam files amended complaint in Nielsen antitrust case

Legal North America

US— Florida broadcaster Sunbeam Television has filed an amended complaint in its anti-trust action against Nielsen, after a court dismissed its earlier complaint.

Sunbeam is suing the research firm for treble damages claiming that its WSVN TV station has been harmed by the introduction of a new ratings system based on local people meter (LPM) technology in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale television market.

The broadcaster argues that Nielsen used its “monopoly” position to implement LPMs “over the objections of WSVN and its other broadcast television customers, knowing that its LPM technology had a well-documented history of producing inaccurate, defective ratings data, particularly in markets with complex minority demographics such as Miami-Fort Lauderdale”.

According to Sunbeam, WSVN experienced drops of more than 50% in ratings for its news programmes following the introduction of LPMs, while “a similar ratings drop also occurred in primetime viewership”.

Sunbeam claims it is losing in excess of $1m in advertising revenue each month as a result of Nielsen’s “unlawful conduct”, while the going concern value of WSVN has been reduced “by more than $100m”.

Nielsen has previously stated that the case is “utterly without merit”. In seeking a dismissal of Sunbeam’s earlier complaint, it argued that the company had failed to state an anti-trust claim in its “allegations of monopolistic abuse”, and that allegations of Nielsen’s exclusionary behaviour were “conclusory and insufficient”. It also argued that its ratings were opinions and as such are afforded protection by the First Amendment, so cannot give rise to anti-trust liability.