The Federal Trade Commission has declined to intervene in the ongoing dispute between Nielsen Media Research and a coalition of advocacy groups and lawmakers who contend that Nielsen's new Local Peopl
(The Hollywood Reporter) -- The Federal Trade Commission has declined to intervene in the ongoing dispute between Nielsen Media Research and a coalition of advocacy groups and lawmakers who contend that Nielsen's new Local People Meter TV ratings gathering system threatens to substantially undercount minority viewing habits.
Last month, 22 members of Congress asked the FTC to determine whether it has any role to play as part of lawmakers' efforts to examine the ratings issue. Some lawmakers and other members of the Don't Count Us Out coalition have called for government oversight of Nielsen, given its status as the sole supplier of audience measurement information to local and national TV stations and networks.
In a March 30 letter sent to Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., and other lawmakers, FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras said that after reviewing the complaints against Nielsen and meeting with coalition members -- including executives from Fox's O&O division -- the commission concluded that there was "no evidence that Nielsen has engaged in deceptive or unfair practices" that would warrant FTC involvement. (Nielsen Media Research is owned by VNU, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard and Entertainment Law Weekly.)
Majoras also wrote that the industry-backed Media Rating Council was an appropriate venue for Nielsen and its customers to grapple with various issues involving Nielsen's ratings-tabulation methodologies and processes.
"It appears to the commission that the existing self-regulatory approach is having a significant effect in attaining both extensive transparency and greater reliability in media ratings," Majoras wrote. "In many circumstances, well-constructed industry self-regulatory efforts can be more prompt, flexible and effective than government regulation."
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., replied in a letter sent to Majoras on Wednesday that called the FTC's response "somewhat disappointing" and urged her take a broader view of the issues at hand. Nielsen's critics maintain that the samples for its LPM services do not accurately reflect the highly diverse populations in such top markets as New York and Los Angeles and that its response rates in minority households have been lower than that of nonminority Nielsen families.
Cynthia Jasso-Rotunno, executive director of Don't Count Us Out, said April 6 that the coalition would continue to press for stronger oversight of Nielsen.
Nielsen on April 6 took indirect aim at Fox for helping to fund the coalition's anti-LPM campaign, which ignited last year when Nielsen began rolling out the service in New York, Los Angeles and other major markets before it received the formal seal of approval from the New York-based MRC.
"Given this clear signal from the Federal Trade Commission, we believe the very small number of media companies who favor government regulation would do a real service to the TV industry if they'd drop their self-serving fight against Nielsen and work cooperatively with us in the MRC," the Nielsen statement said.