Fox News Caught In Massive Nielsen Ratings Fraud

Update 4/2/2010: A major development occurred overnight.
It is now April 2, 2010! (no foolin).
Update 5/10/2010: See this new analysis and addendum.

This week saw the release of the quarterly ratings performance data for television programming. Much of the reporting on this story focused on the dominant position Fox News retains in the cable news sector. As has been the case for several years, Fox News smothered the competition and experienced rapid growth while other news programmers stagnated or declined.

While most industry insiders accept the routine pronouncements from the sole ratings provider, Nielsen Media Research, without question, some observers could not help but notice a certain incongruity in the results. How is it, they wonder, that Fox News can be so consistently in the lead despite their obvious niche programming focus on a narrow segment of the viewing audience. The decidedly right-of-center bias of Fox News corresponds to a rather small portion of the national electorate. Republican favorability has been hovering in the mid-twenties for years. So how does this negligible slice of the market translate into such a disproportionate ratings advantage?

The answer may be evident in new disclosures of business relationships that call into question the integrity of Nielsen’s data. With the rollout of its People Meter methodology in the early 2000’s, Nielsen entered the high-tech era of TV market research. It was heralded as a major advancement of data collection that would vastly improve the ability of producers, programmers and advertisers to evaluate the marketplace. But as with any upheaval in the status quo, there were skeptics and dissenters. Chief amongst them was Fox Broadcasting, who argued that the new system significantly under-counted African-Americans, a key component of their audience at the time. There was also a question as to the security of the new set-top boxes that would be recording viewer choices. With the introduction of technology comes the risk of miscalculations and tampering. But eventually the complaints receded or were resolved and the new service took its place as the signature survey product for television marketing.

It was during this time, subsequent to the implementation of People Meters, that Fox News began its rapid ascent to ratings dominance. A prudent observer might wonder how this new system came to report so much more favorably for a network that had fiercely opposed its adoption. What transpired that caused Fox News to withdraw their objections and become the biggest beneficiary of the change?

It has recently been discovered that the Wegener Corporation, the manufacturer of the set-top devices that Nielsen uses, has a long association with Rupert Murdoch and the News Corporation, the parent of Fox News. Wegener was founded by the former management of Scientific-Atlanta, a producer of set-top boxes for cable access and other purposes. One of the other products in Scientific-Atlanta’s line was a device used by Gemstar to provide television program listings to cable operators and their subscribers. Gemstar was an affiliate of TV Guide, which in turn was owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. So the executives who were responsible for developing and manufacturing Murdoch’s equipment for Gemstar became the principles of the company providing Nielsen with their ratings collection devices. And around that same time Fox News dropped their objections to the new People Meter service.

It would not be difficult to encode an electronic device so that it would purposefully miscalculate survey data. A simple algorithm to multiply a target by a fixed percentage could produce a result that would artificially inflate one set of figures while keeping it in proportion to a larger set, making it virtually impossible to detect. At present, their is no confirmation that such a deception has been contrived. It would require a thorough examination of Nielsen’s hardware and the ability to reverse engineer the chips inside of it. But for those who presume that it would be an outlandish notion, they would be well advised to study recent news events that uncovered similarly scandalous conduct on the part of News Corp.

One situation involves a digital recorder and satellite receiver made by NDS Group for Murdoch’s Sky network in Europe. Unlike TiVo, the Sky+ system records “personal viewing information,” which is information about your viewing practices that is tied to your contact information (i.e., it’s not kept anonymous, like TiVo’s).

In addition to that, NDS was also charged with using spies and hackers to steal Sky competitor Dish Network’s programming and make it available to viewers for free, thus undercutting Dish’s financial viability. As reported in Wired Magazine:

“The case involves a colorful cast of characters that includes former intelligence agents, Canadian TV pirates, Bulgarian and German hackers, stolen e-mails and the mysterious suicide of a Berlin hacker who had been courted by the Murdoch company not long before his death.

On the hot spot is NDS Group, a UK-Israeli firm that makes smartcards for pay-TV systems like DirecTV. The company is a majority-owned subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation. The charges stem from 1997 when NDS is accused of cracking the encryption of rival NagraStar, which makes access cards and systems for EchoStar’s Dish Network and other pay-TV services. Further, it’s alleged NDS then hired hackers to manufacture and distribute counterfeit NagraStar cards to pirates to steal Dish Network’s programming for free.”

On yet another occasion Murdoch’s news group engaged in some sleazy and illegal behavior to get stories about celebrities and politicians. The Guardian reported that Murdoch paid substantial sums of money to keep this scandal under wraps:

“Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers has paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories.

The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public ­figures as well as gaining unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills. Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars were all targets of the private investigators.”

And if that’s not enough, check into the incestuous and disturbing web of connections Murdoch has to the communists in China. Glenn Beck tried to pull the veil off of this one but was censored by his own employer.

Given the history of sleazy conduct and nefarious associations, is it really that far-fetched to conclude that something similar has taken place with regard to Murdoch’s relationship to Nielsen and the firm that manufactures their ratings collection devices? It would explain how Fox News could wind up with such a dominate lead in the ratings despite catering to a relatively small potential audience. It would explain why Fox suddenly halted their objections to a new process that they previously considered inaccurate and biased against them.

It would also explain a deep discrepancy between the allegedly broad viewing of Fox News and their nearly invisible impact on the political landscape. If Fox were as ubiquitous as they (and the ratings) claim, then why, during the years of their strongest growth, did they fail to move the country to their positions. With a sustained 24/7 propaganda effort, Fox failed to stop the 2006 Democratic takeover of Congress. They failed to stop the 2008 election of Barack Obama despite incessant and false allegations of him being a Muslim, a radical leftist, and a pal of terrorists. They failed to stop the 2010 passage of a health care bill despite charges of socialism, death panels, and national bankruptcy. Does this sound like a network that holds a commanding majority of America’s television viewers under its sway?

To be sure, I am not the first to question the legitimacy of Nielsen’s numbers. Many people in the industry quietly accept what they regard as a flawed methodology simply because there is no alternative – or because proposed alternatives are even less acceptable. When it suits their purpose, even Fox News complains about the ratings. And I’m not talking about simple complaints concerning minor numerical inconsistencies, but allegations of rampant fraud that warrant federal investigation. After basking in the glow of Nielsen’s data, Bill O’Reilly turns around and castigates them as having “major problems…that have benefited MSNBC,” and asserts that…

O’Reilly: “The bottom line on this is there may be some big-time cheating going on in the ratings system, and we hope the feds will investigate. Any fraud in the television rating system affects all Americans.”

Of course the “feds” don’t have any jurisdiction over private market research firms. And it’s rather hypocritical for O’Reilly to suddenly advocate for big government intruding on the free market. But conservatives like O’Reilly are not averse to hypocrisy when it furthers their agenda. And in this case the agenda is to work the refs at Nielsen and suppress any notion that Fox is not the king of the television hill.

In conclusion, if we are to have any certainty as to who the real king of the hill is, we will need to get to the bottom of this lingering controversy surrounding Nielsen’s systems and procedures. The connection to Murdoch’s covert operations and his history of unlawful corporate espionage cannot be dismissed. Nielsen must investigate their equipment providers and perform intensive examinations of the devices they place in viewers’ homes. Anything short of this would leave them open to charges of complicity and render their survey data useless.


47 thoughts on “Fox News Caught In Massive Nielsen Ratings Fraud

  1. So it’s April…what?

    Doesn’t mean the foregoing isn’t true.

  2. I’m not surprise at all, not only are they Faux News, they are now Faux Ratings.

  3. Caught by who? The person who wrote the article? Let me know when they get caught by (not to be rude) by someone that matters and will slap them with fines so huge they go bankrupt.

  4. Ironic that you are saying a news is being altered when you are altering the facts. Seriously, you are worse than Fox News because they admit to being biased.

    • are you sure they admit to being biased? they claim to be ‘fair and balanced’.

    • Isn’t it the other way around? It seems that way to my friends and family at least. They all say Fox is for the right wingers and MSNBC is for the left wingers. I guess CNN and the others are for moderates.

    • Hmmm. since when do they admit to be biased? Their tagline is “fair and balanced”. Uh-huh…MY AS*

    • Uh, actually Fox doesn’t admit to being biased as you said. They are “fair and balanced” according to their own adverts. But I understand why you said that they do admit it because their skewing and lieing is so obvious.

  5. Much as I dislike Billionaire Rupert Murdoch, I think we need more proof to accuse him of fixing ratings.

    Actually, since 2003, Fox News prime time audience has gone up from 2.13 million to 2.34 million this year, a rise of about 10% in seven years. This really reflects a growth in the aging population which is the main audience for Fox News, as opposed to any political shift in the population. The number of people age 65, the median age of a Fox News viewer has grown by about 10%.

    On the other hand, MSNBC’s highest rated program in 2003, Phil Donahue, averaged 446,000 viewers. Both “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow’s Show have averaged over 1,000,000 viewers so far this year and about 1.2 million this past week. So MSNBC has gone up about 250% in its primetime ratings over the last seven years.

    If the people meters were falsified, it was likely not to add viewers to Fox or MSNBC, but to drop viewers from CNN.

    Larry King fell from just under 2 million in 2003 to 767,000 so far this year.

    However, rather than a conspiracy theory, one can attribute this to people being bored with the long interview format, and bored with CNN’s conservative bias. Remember CNN was the home of Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck until last year.

  6. Nice April 1 article. Had me going until the Glenn Beck pic!

  7. Shouldn’t your title read “We Really Hope Fox News Gets Caught In Massive Nielsen Ratings Fraud But We Have Nothing To Substantiate Such a Claim” …?

    • Lyndsey Shouldn’t your post read ” I have no idea what this article just said”…?

  8. Dude! I’m all for April fools jokes, but I seeded you article as a legitimate news story… I suppose I should expect that ANY news that comes out on April 1 is a hoax. Hopefully nothing seriously important will ever happen on April 1st… otherwise most people will think that’s a hoax too.

    My being gullible seriously damaged my reputation… and unfortunately, yours as well.

  9. This seems far-fetched, but I have a more plausible theory: Since Fox gives free TVs to doctor’s offices, etc. on the condition that they stay tuned into Fox, I’ll bet a lot of those ratings meters are connected to those TVs.

  10. One of my physicians kept the tv tuned to Fox. Considering that these physicians are some of the brown foreign people with funny accents that the right-wingers/Fox rail against, I never understood this.

    One day I asked the office manager to change the channel especially since Fox is racist to it’s core but she said the the head doc would not allow the channel to be changed. Turned that a lot of the patients had been complaining for months about having to listene to Fox as they waited but the channel was never changed.

    One day I wrote a note voicing my displeasure of being insulted by the racist hosts who spouted outright lies and edited the news for political purposes.

    By my next appointment, no Fox Noise and none since. I think the the physicians finally realized that free access to Fox was not worth the possibility of losing long time patients.

    • Good work. It pays to express yourself.

      • but only if your liberal of course, if your conservative shutup.. or we’ll help you

        • That just about covers it..LOLOL..!!

  11. This is just a smeer job done by Obama lovers and the left leaning media.

  12. There’s some smoke here, but no smoking gun.

    Most likely there are no hidden chips.

    If there are, then the alarmist headline would be accurate

  13. Fox News………….The “Party of Paranoia”……How anyone with an ounce of common sense would buy into their NONSENSE! Fox News is all Right-Winged WACKOS have left! Fox acts like a Bully who thrives on “Advising Dim-wits”! THE SKY IS FALLING! THE SKY IS FALLING! Wake up “FoxNews DROIDS” THINK for yourselves! Use some COMMON SENSE! Maybe you won’t be so ANGRY!

    • not angry at all…. just think for myself. I am not a ‘obama the messiah’ clone such as yourself. I am not in a line begging for the government to take from someone else so they can to do more for me– like you…. i want the ability to do it for myself.Who is the ‘non-thinking droid’? Me, for wanting to do for myself, or YOU for wanting the government to do it for you ? You liberals crack me up. The one’s who want less government and less intervention are called ‘droids’, and you guys who want the government to wipe your butts for you call yourselves ‘free thinkers’ and ‘intellictuals’….. what a load of crap. Do you have to shave both faces every morning, or just one a day ?

  14. ‘fox is racist’, ‘fox is cheating’, ‘fox is the devil’….. where is there ANY proof ? A single substantiated shred of evidence ? We have plenty of opinions and a few major conspiracy theories, yet not a single ‘racist quote’ or investigation substantiation….. and then these same people rant against fox. Liberals are about as two-faced as them can get…. ranting about poor journalism and false accusations, then doing worse themselves… no wonder fox news is booming. All the other journalism sources are dying right before our eyes ! Using ineundo as fact and story lines, conspiracy theories as news………

  15. Ha! You had me going until the Glenn Beck picture, too. Then I scrolled to the top and saw that this was filed under “Humor.” This was quite a well-written spoof. It’s even downright scary that we have so little trust and so much contempt for the “other side” that this article would have people really believing it. Kudos for a practical joke well played.

  16. How absurd and illogical. He begins with an assumption that FOX is focused on a narrow segment of the electorate – neglecting the fact that in all the surveys 40-45% of the population are conservative, about 35% are moderate and 20-25% are liberal. Meanwhile all the “mainstream’ channels plus MSNBC and CNN all split the 25% of liberals while ceding all the conservatives and many moderates to FOX. No surprise FOX toasts them in the ratings.

  17. Everyday it’s something else about “FOX NEWS”
    Their noting more than a bunch of cheats and lairs!
    All of them, from the top to the bottom.

  18. The funny thing is — this story is much more accurate than you think.

    Take for example what Murdoch did with his newspaper in New York when circulation wasn’t up to snuff. Anyone remember??? If not, remind yourself by either reading the article – or if you don’t like to click on links.. Google the words “New York Post Heads to the Dump” (you should find plenty of archived articles — it was BIG news at the time) – Also, look at the photos on the article as they are mind-boggling to what extent they went to!!

    The difference is – in the newspaper incident, Murdoch was CAUGHT.

    As far as Nielson goes. who in their right mind doesn’t know what is really going on?

    He fought tooth and nail to stop Neilson from considering college dorms in the nightly sampling. He fights tooth and nail every time they make a move to upgrade their method of viewership sampling.

    Why? (You know why)

    It’s going to be interesting if Ruppy’s oldest son decides to take over NewsCorpse as he’d like him to. He is VERY progressive, very honest, and unlie his father – has morals.

    BTW — if you think Murdoch only spends mega bucks to get the results he wants out of only the Nielson, think again. He is also very, very involved with a radio sampling group called Arbitron.

    One of these days, the truth really will come out and not just on an April 1st article.

    There are finally people on the case. FINALLY!

  19. Maybe just an April 1st joke, but it does get you thinking. Satire is based on truth.

  20. I cannot believe the liberal democrat News Corps can be such bad sports that they accuse Fox of cheating on their ratings. America is a predominantly middle to right country and although the republicans failed their conservative base Fox news has consistently reported in a fair and balanced manner and has never let their audience down. Be good sports!

    • “Fox news has consistently reported in a fair and balanced manner…” Now THAT’S an April fools joke, right?

      “…and has never let their audience down.” OK, I’ll give you that one.

  21. Oh, this was a joke? OK, got me! I am so used to the liberal media bashing Fox and republicans/conservatives that you fooled me. You were the only people to get me this year! Congradulations.

  22. Hmmmm….This reminds of the 2 major manufacturers of the touch screen voting machines! Built by republican lovers!

  23. Who the fuck is News Corpse…

    Get a life… you guys are worst than baptists… Your not even anarchists.

    Who wrote this anyways? God?

  24. 1) “Fox News” is not “Fox Broadcasting” as anyone looking at the programming line-up of the latter can easily see. You started with saying Fox BC had complained about the new ratings system and then inserted Fox News as though they are synonymous.

    2) Is there any evidence that Nielsen’s ratings conclusions re: Fox News are significantly different from other ratings companies? No? Then this is drug-fueled conspiracy spinning. Since we’re dealing with statistics, you should look up the term “Confirmation Bias” and see how it applies to this post.

  25. Given how I hate Fox News, I wish there was some logic to your position…but there isn’t. To assume that Fox News ratings will track Republican party roll numbers is silly since conservative leaning electorate approaches 50% whether they call themselves Republicans or not. Fox’s right-leaning bias is designed to attract the conservative half of the country to get news that does not challenge their belief system. (See the article

    Fox is not the only news agency that uses the Nielsen ratings as proof of viewership to sell advertising. Every TV news network does that and has done so for generations. To claim that there is something untoward about it now that Fox is leading smacks of a bias worse than what Fox is guilty of. You can respond to dog poo attacks by slinging some dog poo yourself, but I see no way to do that without getting it all over your hands too.

    So while I clicked through to this article hoping to read a compelling case against Fox, I am forced to acknowledge that this ratings theory lacks substance. I think that having the integrity to make an admission like this is what separates me from them. Best to ensure that you can say the same.

  26. I work for nielson and know they are commiting fraud but I need to get it through the right way…

    • Well, my email address is in the sidebar above.

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