Senator Introduces Mandatory Ratings Accreditation Measure

Jul 1, 2005  •  Post A Comment

What has been a vague threat of government-mandated oversight for Nielsen Media Research became more real Friday when Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., introduced a bill that would require TV ratings services to be audited and accredited by the Media Rating Council before their research data becomes the industry standard.

Mandatory accreditation before operation has become the rallying cry for some Nielsen clients who are unhappy with the new Local People Meter service Nielsen has rolled out in seven cities in a little more than a year. The most recent LPM conversions took place Thursday in Washington and Philadelphia, where the service is not accredited.

Co-sponsors of the FAIR Ratings Act (for Fairness, Accuracy, Inclusivity and Responsiveness in Ratings) are Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. George Allen, R-Va.

“This legislative remedy will reaffirm the same standard that was intended by Congress and the television industry over 40 years ago when the Media Rating Council was first established,” Sen. Burns said in announcing the filing. “It has become clear that the MRC lacks the authority to enforce its standards. This has frustrated the MRC’s role in ensuring ratings accuracy and has obstructed congressional intent.”

Sen. Burns described his measure as “simple, direct and miminally intrusive.

“This bill is not about Nielsen Media Research. It is not about the Local People Meter system. It does not create government standards, regulation or any government role,” he said.

Nielsen released a statement that 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.

News Corp. was the first Nielsen client to publicly criticize the LPM rollout in early 2004, when it funded the formation of a “grass-roots” coalition, known as Don’t Count Us Out, to stir up political and community opposition to the LPM service on grounds that it tends to undercount Hispanic and African American viewing.

More recently, TV groups ranging from Allbritton Communications and Tribune Broadcasting to NBC and CBS joined News Corp. in calling for Nielsen to hold off on dismantling old services until the new ones have been accredited. The groups have recently focused their complaints on fault rates in the new samples.

Nielsen said in its statement: “Despite any claims by the sponsors of the bill, this legislation will not benefit consumers.” The research company, which has no competition, also said, “This bill came about because pro-regulators went to the Federal Trade Commission last year looking for government oversight of the television ratings business. After careful consideration, the FTC issued a statement on March 30, 2005, flatly rejecting the call for regulation. Indeed, the FTC said that ‘Well-constructed industry self-regulatory efforts can be more prompt, flexible, and effective than government regulation.’ We agree with the FTC.”