Station group urges FCC probe of Nielsen ratings

WASHINGTON – A trade group representing local TV stations urged the FCC Wednesday to conduct a formal inquiry into the accuracy of Nielsen Media Research’s audience ratings.

In comments filed at the Federal Communications Commission, the Assn. of Local Television Stations (ALTV) added its voice to the chorus of Nielsen critics in the broadcasting industry. ALTV members are stations not affiliated with the Big Three networks. They blame Nielsen’s reporting methods for underestimating the size of the broadcast audience.

The webs have also complained bitterly about Nielsen’s ratings, which they say is unreliable when it comes to measuring national viewing patterns. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC plan to take out advertisements in national newspapers in the coming week criticizing Nielsen.

FCC chairman Reed Hundt met with Nielsen execs last May to discuss the issues raised by broadcasters. An agency spokesman said Wednesday that the FCC is currently soliciting information about audience ratings from the industry on an informal basis.

ALTV says Nielsen’s continued reliance on written diaries is particularly troublesome, as electronic meters provide a more accurate picture of viewing habits. Kids’ TV is a sore spot. “Nielsen is terribly inaccurate in respect to kids’ TV, with the meters saying one thing and the diaries another,” said Jim Hedlund, ALTV prexy. Hedlund said Nielsen places too much emphasis on the diaries, which often are filled out by parents and don’t accurately reflect kids’ viewing habits.

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