Nielsen-Funded Task Force Turns Table, Probes MRC, Issues Report

In a development described as "weird" by several observers, a task force created to investigate how Nielsen Media Research measures minority viewers, has turned the tables and issued a report advocating changes in the Media Rating Council, an entity created by the industry to regulate Nielsen and other media ratings suppliers. The task force, and its report, were funded by Nielsen.

While the MRC audits ratings suppliers for all media, Suzanna Valdez, executive director of the so-called Independent Task Force on Television Measurement, said the new report only relates to the MRC's policies and procedures for auditing TV ratings services. She confirmed that Nielsen provided funding for the report, but denied that it has come out of the blue, noting that the task force always planned to probe the MRC ever since it wrapped up an earlier report investigating Nielsen's methods and making several recommendations for improving its procedures.

But in contrast to the previous report--which was released first by Nielsen, not the task force, and which was promoted on Nielsen's Web site, as well as a specially created site Nielsen created to counter TV ratings advocates--Nielsen has distanced itself from the new report. A Nielsen spokeswoman said she had not seen the report, and had no comment on it. "It is Nielsen's decision whether they want to publicize this or not," said Valdez.



"I'm very concerned that this task force didn't follow the same process in reviewing and disseminating this report and getting responses from us as they apparently did with Nielsen," said George Ivie, executive director of the MRC, who said he was apprised that the task force was developing the report. He had not seen it at presstime Monday.

"It should be [Nielsen's] process, not ours, that they're reviewing," added Ivie.

Others, speaking off-the-record, noted the irony that a Nielsen-funded task force--which was initially created to help appease the concerns of Congress and federal regulators that Nielsen was doing its job and was in fact complying with the MRC--would turn around and probe the MRC, an organization that was created following recommendations by Congress and the Department of Justice in the 1960s to self-regulate the ratings business.

In fact, Ivie noted that the MRC recently went through a review with the Federal Trade Commission, the government body charged with overseeing its performance, and received an "affirmation" and was told to continue operating as it has been.

Nonetheless, the task force's report says the group found "room for improvement" in several areas involving the awareness and role of "niche and small minority stakeholders within the television industry of the MRC and its operations." It makes the following recommendations for the MRC:

* Create a number of non-voting seats on its Board of Directors for consumer organizations and other representatives of the public interest;
* Implement a sliding scale for membership dues that would help prevent the cost of membership from being a barrier to entry for smaller companies who would like to participate but do not currently have the budgetary means;
* Expand advertiser representation within the Council and continuously maintain parity between buyers and sellers; and
* Establish a process of open and recorded voting on all MRC matters not concerning proprietary information.

Next story loading loading..