News Corp leads lobby to regulate Nielsen

MUMBAI: Nielsen Media Research's plan to introduce peoplemeters has upset several broadcast networks in the US including Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Their grouse: the metres will reflect reduced viewers and cause advertisers to switch to cable or satellite TV.

The broadcasters, led by News Corp, are lobbying lawmakers for legislation to regulate Nielsen whose ratings set prices for the $60 billion annual TV advertising in the US.

The group is circulating a proposed bill on Capitol Hill that would regulate Nielsen and force the company to get approval for new audience metres from the Media Rating Council, said a Bloomberg report quoting Fox TV stations president of operations Tom Herwitz. The council is an industry group with TV companies constituting about 40 per cent of the membership.

News Corp has contested that the introduction of peoplemeters would "undercount minorities," a view which has caught on among station owners Tribune Co. and Gannett Co. Their campaign prompted Nielsen to open an office in Washington for the first time and forced it to delay plans to role out the devices in Washington and Philadelphia, Bloomberg reports. ``Before all this happened, we had been excluded from the political brouhaha,'' said Don Lowery, Nielsen's vice president of government relations. ``It was naive to think it would continue.''

Broadcasters including News Corp, Tribune and Gannett sent a 25 May letter to Nielsen asking the company to delay its new people- meters, the report added. ``The goal of ensuring accuracy in ratings justifies the minimal intervention of the Congress,'' Herwitz said.

The draft bill has been given to Senator Conrad Burns, a Republican from Montana, and Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon, both of whom serve on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The bill would require Nielsen to submit to mandatory audits (current practice requires voluntary audits) by the Media Rating Council and adhere to set standards.

Senator Burns is said to be reviewing the broadcasters' bill.

Nielsen has already installed local peoplemeters in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. The plan is to use the devices in the top 10 markets which cover 30 per cent of viewers. The devices are more accurate because they electronically track what each member of a household is watching, spokesman Jack Loftus said in the report.

The peoplemeters are set to replace older metres and handwritten diaries. Under the diary system, Nielsen pays viewers $2 to $15 for completing and mailing them in. That system, Nielsen says, is less accurate because people often forget what they watch or neglect to fill in the diaries.

Broadcast networks have been losing audience to cable and satellite TV. The three largest broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- last year attracted 22 per cent of US. viewers, down from 56 per cent in 1970.

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