Lawmakers Mull Regulating Nielsen

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A News Corp.-backed coalition’s attempt to quash Nielsen Media Research’s new Local People Meter system gained some steam last week, as several members of Congress asked the Federal Trade Commission to consider regulating the ratings firm.

In a March 7 letter to FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) asked the commission to consider whether it has the authority to regulate Nielsen. If it doesn’t have that power, Smith said, he intends to introduce legislation that would allow the FTC to do so.

A few days before Smith wrote his letter, 17 members of the House of Representatives sent a similar letter, complaining that Nielsen’s LPM system may offer an inaccurate picture of the number of African-American and Hispanic households watching TV, and may require regulation.

Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress signed the letter, including Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Mary Bono (R-Calif.). The letter asks Majoras to determine whether the FTC “can play a role in assisting Congress in this matter.”

“Over the past year questions have been raised about the reliability of Nielsen’s ratings data and the lack of oversight of Nielsen, which effectively operates as a monopoly,” the representatives wrote in the letter to Majoras.

News Corp. has been the largest opponent of Nielsen’s LPM system, and has funded Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition that has lobbied to stop Nielsen’s rollout of the system.

Nielsen responded to the legislators’ letters by noting that it believes regulation of the ratings industry is unnecessary.

“Regulation would have a damaging effect on ratings accuracy by slowing down innovation at a time of rapid change in entertainment viewing habits,” Nielsen said in a statement. “Worse, it would give large, politically connected media companies a chance to influence the ratings process to their advantage, as certain of them have recently attempted.”