Nielsen Media Research defended itself against claims that its newest system of measuring television viewership has the potential to be inaccurate and unfair when counting minorities, presenting “extraordinary cultural, social and economic implications.”
Sen. Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, expressed that concern at a hearing Thursday, noting Nielsen’s significant impact on billions of dollars in advertising requires precision.
“Because our system is … funded by advertising dollars, Nielsen ratings determine which television shows get aired and which get canceled and, so, ultimately determine what kind of content is distributed on our public airwaves,” Burns said.
With the launch of Nielsen’s “Local People Meter” system in the major markets of Los Angeles and New York, with Chicago and other markets planned, Burns and players in the industry called for a delay of the new system until a study could determine whether it is too flawed.
Nielsen CEO Susan Whiting countered in her testimony that the dominant TV-ratings service is “like an umpire,” making the calls as it sees them despite the predictable “criticism for ratings that are too low.”
Thomas Herwitz, president of Fox Television Stations, testified that Congress should regulate the ratings group because “the ratings system upon which we rely is seriously broken.”
Herwitz claimed that a study by the Media Rating Council -- an industry watchdog created by Congress in 1963 -- shows that Nielsen’s LPM “is failing to accurately count viewership, particularly among African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans.”
Nielsen said in a prepared statement that Fox’s call for government intervention “is a strange and self-serving plea.”
“For more than 50 years, Nielsen has been an independent ratings service with no ties to the programming it measures, and it would be a mistake to introduce politics into what must remain a scientific, unbiased process,” the statement said.
The MRC audit found that one in six households were misclassified as black and one in 14 as Hispanic, and the percentage of households in which Nielsen inadvertently failed to collect data was higher for blacks and Hispanics.
The MRC and many in the industry believe the LPM technology is a significant improvement over the meter/diary process of capturing viewer conduct. But the request for a delay until the new system is accredited stems from concerns of race and origin misclassification and “excessive” faulting.
Whiting assured the subcommittee that the accuracy issues are “resolvable.”
“We will continue to resist all attempts to manipulate this process or to mislead the public through a cynical campaign that has nothing to do with protecting the rights of African Americans, Latinos or any other ethnic group,” she added, “and everything to do with protecting the commercial self-interest of specific media companies.”
States News Service