Nielsen watchdog

Agency asks Feds to aid in audit compliance

WASHINGTON — A ratings accreditation organization, which includes large media companies and advertisers, is seeking federal help in making ratings giant Nielsen Media Research comply with audits.

George Ivie, exec director of the Media Rating Council, a client-backed auditor of various media rating services, on Thursday sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission and to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) of the Senate Commerce Committee, asking that both the agency and Congress “actively reaffirm the role and mission of the MRC, which was (originally) established as the Broadcast Rating Council in 1963.”

Nielsen had agreed back then to abide by Broadcast Rating Council standards. However, a ratings scandal hit the industry at the time, and the MRC believes it’s necessary that Nielsen formally agree again.

“I’d like to see Congress reaffirm that the MRC audit process is appropriate and applicable to Nielsen, and that Nielsen should actively support and follow the results of MRC audits,” Ivie told Daily Variety. “There have been great controversies raised by civic groups over whether Nielsen has met MRC accreditation criteria.”

People Meters decried

One such group is the Don’t Count Us Out Coalition, which has criticized Nielsen’s Local People Meter system for “staggering fault rates signifying a continued undercount of black and Hispanic audiences,” according to a coalition statement.

“There is no evidence that minority audiences are being undercounted,” responded Jack Loftus, a Nielsen spokesman.

As to whether Nielsen will consent again to accept and abide by MRC audits, Loftus said, “We’ve consented since 1950.”

Ivie said his letter — which also asks for “a more continuous communication link” with Congress — contains nothing really new. All requests and recommendations, he said, have been sent before by individual members at one time or another. The letter allowed the members to co-sign a single communique formalizing the requests and recommendations. “The vast majority of members signed it,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Burns, who in the past has called Nielsen an “unchecked monopoly power,” said he had received the letter and would be reviewing it.