Nielsen Sues ‘Love Sponge’ Over Ratings Scam

     (CN) – Tampa, Fla. shock jock Bubba “the Love Sponge” Clem allegedly bribed Nielsen families in order to boost the ratings of his radio program, a federal lawsuit claims.
     Nielsen is one of the nation’s oldest and best known audience measurement firms for the radio and television industries. It calculates radio ratings by randomly choosing survey panelists and giving them a device — dubbed the “Portable People Meter — that uses embedded codes to log their radio habits.
     Nielsen compiles the results and sells them to subscribers, such as radio stations and advertisers. The results influence advertisement campaigns, programming decisions and the careers of individual broadcasters.
     In a complaint filed in the Tampa Federal Court on October 15, Nielsen Audio claims a fan of the “Bubba The Love Sponge” show put Clem in touch with an individual whose household was participating in the survey.
     Through phone calls and text messages, the complaint says, Clem offered the individual up to $400 a month if the household changed its listening habits and the host saw a boost in ratings.
     According to Nielsen, Clem paid at least a portion of this money.
     The lawsuit details Clem’s knowledge of the impropriety of his alleged actions. In one text, the radio host purportedly wrote, “U have to promise not to say a word … this could ruin me. B … thank u. again this will kill the bad guys.”
     In another text, he allegedly warns the individual, “Please take it seriously. And don’t get lazy so we have them a long time. Don’t want to loose them. So please pay attention. U know I’ll take care of u.”
     Nielsen alleges that when Clem did not immediately see results, he purchased radios for the panelist to help with the manipulation of the ratings. In another text, Clem allegedly admits another panelist contacted by him had the survey device taken away after Nielsen suspected wrongdoing.
     “The mere possibility that tainted listening data was submitted to Nielsen Audio by panelists and could have found its way into the audience estimates seriously harms Nielsen Audio’s reputation as well as the value of the audience estimates and station rankings …” the complaint says.
     Last month, Nielsen Audio says, it contacted Beasley Broadcast Group, which owns WBRN-FM, the station on Clem’s radio program originates. As a result of that conversation, it says, the station suspended the Love Sponge for 8 days.
     In a press release, Beasley’s president Bruce Beasley “strongly” condemned Clem’s actions and ensured further training for employees.
     “We were completely unaware of Mr. Clem’s actions. and moved quickly to cooperate fully with Nielsen once they brought the allegations to our attention,” Beasley said.
     Clem later admitted to contacting a panelist at a press conference held in his personal studio.
     “It’s with deep regret and embarrassment that I face you directly and say that [the allegations are] true,” he said at a press conference held in his personal studio. “There’s no excuse, the buck stops with me and I cannot tell you how humbled and how embarrassed I am.”
     Nielsen Audio maintains the firm caught the manipulated data in time not to influence any ratings, but the damage to its reputation continues.
     “Nielsen Audio’s reputation and the reputation of its ratings reports as an unbiased tool in the industry has been damaged irreparably and continues to be damaged as long as the possibility exists for Bubba Clem and those working in conjunction with him to contact PPM panelist and manipulate the PPM data to his advantage,” the complaint says.
     The company is seeking $1 million in damages on claims of fraud, tortuous interference with business relationships and violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
     Clems’ program is syndicated on five other Florida radio stations, three out-of-state stations and online. He’s been a fixture in radio for nearly 30 years.
     Clem is no stranger to legal controversy. In 2008, another Tampa radio host sued Clem for defamation. During that trial, Clem’s counsel orchestrated a DUI arrest of the opposing attorney. A judge later found the two attorneys guilty of ethics violations and recommended disbarment. In 2012, Hulk Hogan sued Clem for invasion of privacy when a tape surfaced of the former wrestler having sex with Clem’s wife at the couple’s home. The wrestler and radio host later settled.
     Nielsen Audio is represented by Mark Ragusa of the Tampa firm Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart PA.

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