House Measure Would Give Teeth to MRC

Jul 14, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., introduced a bill Thursday in the House of Representatives to give the Media Rating Council “the necessary authority to fulfill its critical role” of ensuring accurate TV ratings and to require accreditation from the MRC before any ratings services can be sold.

Titled the Television Viewer Consumer Protection Act of 2005, Rep. Sessions’ bill follows by two weeks the introduction of a bill in the Senate by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and three other Republicans that also would require TV ratings services to be audited and accredited by the MRC before their research data becomes the industry standard.

Both pieces of legislation arise from opposition, led most notably by News Corp., to Nielsen Media Research’s Local People Meters, which critics claim undercounts African American and Hispanic viewing.

A number of station groups and networks recently went public with their demand that Nielsen not roll out the LPM service in any more cities until it has received accreditation for all the LPM services it has launched.

Nielsen delayed the conversion to LPMs in Washington and Philadelphia by a month but launched them June 30 without accreditation, as it had in Boston in 2002 and in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco since June 2004. Nielsen has since received full accreditation for the Boston and San Francisco LPM services. The company plans to roll out LPM services in Detroit, Atlanta and Dallas by early next year.

In the Sixties, Congress proposed the creation of the MRC as the watchdog for the ratings and research industry but did not assign enforcement power.

The Federal Trade Commission has declined to step into the situation.

Nielsen has said it will cooperate with the MRC, but has argued that federal intervention violates antitrust laws and turns the MRC into a quasigovernment agency.

After the Burns bill, titled the FAIR Ratings Act, was introduced Nielsen said, “We are disappointed that political leaders who espouse free market principles would use the power of the federal government to choose sides in a commercial dispute among private businesses. This bill, which was drafted in cooperation with News Corp., would benefit only those companies who want to maintain the status quo in the television industry. The bill subjects Nielsen Media alone to government control. No other media survey company is impacted.”