All eyes on TV ratings

Greece’s only television ratings company was yesterday accused of issuing false viewing figures and two of its top executives were charged with concealing links with advertising firms. In a move that is sure to send shock waves through Greek television companies, which base their output heavily on ratings, a 15-month judicial investigation revealed doubts about the accuracy of the figures provided by AGB Nielsen Media Research in Greece. Prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki charged the president of AGB Hellas, Yiannis Anastassakos, Managing Director Spyros Zavitsanos and shareholder Stavros Leousis with fraud and making false declarations regarding their relations with advertising firms. Leousis allegedly owned shares in four advertising companies. In her 42-page report which was submitted to Supreme Court Prosecutor Dimitris Linos yesterday, Touloupaki also identified 17 examples where AGB allegedly did not measure television ratings properly. A set-top receiver used to record viewing practices at one of the 1,300 households AGB monitored was in fact placed with a nonexistent family that had a phone number which belonged to AGB, the prosecutor alleged. According to sources, she also found AGB had showed that one viewer watched 35 hours of television a day and that a child as young as three was listed among the viewers used to assess ratings. AGB allegedly gave viewing figures for channels that were not broadcasting at the time due to a power cut and for families that did not have their televisions sets switched on. The Greek branch of the Swiss-based company issued a statement denying the charges, labeling them «totally groundless.» AGB said that its work had repeatedly been found to be impeccable by Greek and foreign experts, and said it was confident that it would be acquitted of the charges. Leousis issued a statement saying that he had not hidden the fact he owned shares in advertising firms.