July 30, 2005

This Weekend’s Unanswered Questions (073005)

Another installment in a nearly-regular series of mysteries and pseudo-mysteries (usually 3-4) this inquiring mind would like to have answers for (some links included may require free registration):

QUESTION 1: Do you think anyone at Newsweek makes a connection between their bogus Quran flushing at Gitmo item, a steep advertising drop in their magazine, and need to cut back on content?

Here’s the story:

Due to low ad pages during late summer, Newsweek is trimming the number of issues it publishes by one, opting for a double issue dated Aug. 29-Sept. 5, Mediaweek reports.

Through July 19, Newsweek’s ad pages have fallen 15.6 percent this year, to 970. It’s not alone. A lack of spending in the technology and automotive sectors has hurt the whole newsweekly category with ad pages falling 10.5 percent, to 6,332 through July 19.

QUESTION 2: How many people believe the hospitality industry’s stated reason for cutting back on changing bedsheets?

NOT bringing in the sheets (bolds are mine):

A USA TODAY survey of the policies of 25 hotel brands reveals that most do not require a daily change of sheets during a guest’s stay. All said they would change them daily for no charge if a customer makes a request. Eleven said they provide a daily change, nine said they change sheets a few times per week or weekly and five said polices vary at their lodgings.

More than one-third of the hotels of Crowne Plaza, InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express – four brands with various policies – say they participate in an environmental program called “Conserving for Tomorrow” and change sheets every three days.

…. Marc Caron, a sales manager for a machinery company in Greensboro, N.C., says he usually doesn’t ask for clean bedsheets each day. “It’s no different than my bed at home,” he says. “Those sheets don’t get cleaned every day.”

Caron says he shares hotels’ concern for the environment and doesn’t ask for fresh sheets daily. But he’s certain it’s being done to cut laundry and labor costs. “Ultimately, as with any publicly traded company, they have to protect the interests of shareholders, continue to increase profits and watch over their financial health,” he adds.

I don’t mind the move personally; the fewer people I don’t know that enter my hotel room while I’m away, the better. I do mind the irritating pretense that it’s about the environment. Zheesh. Are they afraid we’ll ask for a room rate reduction if they tell us it’s to cut costs (fat chance)?

QUESTION 3: How transparent is this fight over technology?

A fight over how TV ratings is collected has absurdly escalated to the halls of Congress:

Nielsen Media Research is blasting proposed legislation that it says would extend government oversight of TV ratings and could force it to shut down its rating service in markets across the USA. But broadcasters say Nielsen is overstating the impact of the bill, which would place the company under fresh scrutiny in the wake of charges that its new ratings system undercounts minorities.

A Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday will spotlight the controversy and examine the bill, introduced this month by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.

The measure would require Nielsen, or any other TV ratings service, to be accredited by the Media Ratings Council, a non-profit group run by broadcasters, advertisers and other industry players. Today, Nielsen seeks accreditation but does so voluntarily and the council has no power to require changes.

The controversy stems from Nielsen’s decision to roll out Local People Meters, or LPMs, in the nation’s top markets despite council warnings that the new system is flawed. Since last year, LPMs have been added in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, among other cities.

LPMs are designed to more accurately capture which local programs are on in Nielsen sample homes and who is watching them. Each family member is told to punch a unique code into the TV remote control when they watch a particular show. LPMs have been used since 1987 to determine national TV ratings. But in most cities, demographic data for local shows are captured by diaries that viewers often fail to update.

Yet broadcasters say local LPMs often undercount viewers. They can be knocked out when viewers briefly unplug the TV or fail to log out from the LPMs. Failures occur at disproportionately higher rates in big cities and in the homes of minorities, large families and younger viewers, broadcasters note.

This is a classic case of an entrenched group running to the government to avoid the impact of the real world on their businesses, and using political correctness (undercounting minorities? Please) as part of their defense. The LPMs work for national surveys, so there’s no reason to believe they won’t work for local ones. If the broadcasters don’t like it, they can always try to find another metering company, or start up a new one if Nielsen is currently the only game in town. But nooooo–it’s easier to run crying to Uncle Sam.

For crying out loud, the government should not be involved in this dispute at all. Giving the “Media Ratings Council” anything beyond advisory power looks like a recipe for guaranteeing that the TV ratings process (of all things) will be politicized for the foreseeable future. I think Congress has more important priorities; I certainly hope so.

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