News Corp.-Backed Bill: Regulate Nielsen

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In the latest skirmish in the ongoing battle over “Local People Meters,” News Corp. has been floating a bill in Washington, D.C., that calls for regulation of Nielsen Media Research.

News Corp.’s Fox TV-station group is spearheading the charge, joined by several other broadcasters, to find sponsors for legislation that would require Nielsen to get approval for its controversial LPMs from the Media Rating Council, an industry organization.

A spokesman for Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) confirmed that the lawmaker had been given a draft of the bill, which reportedly has the support of not only News Corp., but also Tribune Co. and Allbritton Communications Co.

According to Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus, the bill said a company couldn’t offer a TV-ratings service unless the MRC accredits it first. There is no enforcement provision in the bill, Loftus said.

“I can’t imagine the Congress actually considering this,” he added. “Why the Congress would want to enact legislation that’s designed to protect a handful of broadcasters is beyond me. But, more important, it would create a radically different MRC.”

Loftus also argued that if the MRC was, in effect, transformed into a “quasi-governmental agency,” it would have to conform to strict legislative rules and procedures. And he pointed out that News Corp. and Tribune are MRC members.

For more than one year now, News Corp. and Don’t Count Us Out, a coalition of African-American and Hispanic groups, have been fighting against the deployment of LPMs, which they claim undercount minority viewers. LPM opponents have mounted protests in markets where the new meters were launching.

Nielsen has defended its LPMs, maintaining that they are far more accurate than the old meter-diary system of tracking viewership.

This spring, Burns was part of a group of legislators that asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into overseeing TV ratings. The FTC passed, saying that the television industry should police itself.

When News Corp. began calling for government regulation of TV ratings earlier this year, Nielsen set up a lobbying office in Washington to combat “the misinformation that was spread about our company,” according to Nielsen spokeswoman Karen Gyimesi.

“It’s gotten to the point where we need full-time people down there just to field the calls and make sure that we are spreading the truth,” she added.

Officials from News Corp. and Allbritton, who couldn’t be reached for comment, were among 18 broadcasters who sent a letter May 25 to Nielsen asking for a delay in the launch of LPMs in Washington and Philadelphia. Nielsen agreed to postpone those deployments until June 30.

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