Ratings Man Bites Watchdog, Surprise Reactions To MRC Report

In the latest and perhaps strangest new development in the ongoing debate surrounding the oversight of TV audience measurement, Don't Count Us Out is backing a Nielsen-funded attempt to shift the focus onto the Media Rating Council, the media industry's ratings watchdog. DCUO, which has been among the most vocal critics of Nielsen's local people meters and its minority audience representation, Wednesday said it "applauded" the suggestions of a report financed by Nielsen on how the MRC could improve its process.

The move is ironic, because the MRC was created by the media industry to audit and review the processes and methods of Nielsen and other media ratings organizations. But on Monday, the so-called Independent Task Force on Television Measurement issued a report that was the culmination of a probe into the MRC's methods. The task force and the report were paid for by Nielsen, but neither the task force or Nielsen disclosed that information. In a tersely worded statement issued Wednesday, MRC Executive Director George Ivie blasted the lack of "transparency" in the release of the report, and said the MRC was not contacted during the task force's probe and was not asked to review or comment on its findings.



"The MRC is in the process of considering the Select Committee's recommendations, many of which were made by Nielsen on a separate basis prior to the report, and will respond accordingly," stated Ivie.

Nielsen made similar comments when the task force's first report on Nielsen was issued, but to date Nielsen has made no public announcement about adopting any of the task force's recommendations.

The release of the report--and the surprising way in which it was announced--raise some big questions about the relationship between Nielsen and the MRC. Among other things, Nielsen has yet to agree to a voluntary code of conduct being developed by the MRC, nor has it agreed to mandatory accreditation for any new ratings services it plans to launch.

The timing is also interesting, because it comes during what amounts to a lull period in lobbying efforts for legislation designed to regulate Nielsen and other media ratings providers. It also comes weeks before Nov. 11, when the MRC's Television Committee is scheduled to hold its annual audit review of Nielsen's local TV ratings service. During that meeting, the MRC committee will review the audit report and will vote on whether accreditation of Nielsen's local TV ratings services should be continued.

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