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FAIR fight expected over people meters

Nielsen numbers would be questioned under act

WASHINGTON — All signs point to a FAIR fight: Opposing sides are preparing for a Senate hearing this week on the Fairness, Accuracy, Inclusivity and Responsiveness in Ratings Act of 2005, which would require ratings services to be accredited by the Media Rating Council.

Introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), the FAIR Ratings Act is rooted in controversy over accuracy of Nielsen’s local people meters, which some have claimed undercount minority auds. Bill would change MRC accreditation of ratings services and systems, currently voluntary, to mandatory.

MRC, a nonprofit industry association, was formed in 1964 at the urging of Congress.

But several organizations oppose the bill. In a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee, which will hold a hearing on FAIR on Wednesday, a group of African-American leaders wrote, “The current attempt … to subject Nielsen to government control by turning the Media Rating Council … into a virtual regulatory body would inject the government into an area that the industry has always successfully handled on its own.”

Referring to News Corp. and a group it has helped to underwrite — both critics of LPMs — Comcast Spotlight also wrote the Senate committee, saying, “While there has been a persistent effort by certain broadcasting companies — and organizations that they have funded — to portray this debate as affecting the public interest, the simple fact is that those companies are trying to hold back technological progress because it threatens their bottom line.”

“In our view,” Comcast Spotlight continued, “the Local People Meter is the most accurate TV audience measurement system devised and deployed to date.”

Among supporters of FAIR is National Assn. of Broadcasters topper Edward O. Fritts, who also weighed in with a letter to Congress, saying, “We believe (media research) products should be fully audited, and the methods by which their data is determined should be made sufficiently transparent prior to their use in the marketplace.”

The Don’t Count Us Out Coalition, funded in part by News Corp., has sharply criticized LPMs and is a vocal supporter of the bill. DCUOC exec director Cynthia J. Rotunno hailed NAB’s endorsement of FAIR, saying in a statement that the NAB letter “is further evidence that a growing chorus of voices from across the country believes that this bill will bring accountability, accuracy and fairness to television ratings.”

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