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Burns Asks if FTC Can Monitor Nielsen's LPM

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NEW YORK Congress is not finished with its examination of Nielsen Media Research's controversial roll out of local people meters.

In a follow-up to hearings held July 15 before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, chairman Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) today sent a letter to Deborah Majoras, chairperson of the Federal Trade Commission, asking if the FTC has the authority to become involved in the process to ensure the TV ratings are fair and accurate.

If the FTC determines that it does not have any authority in the matter, Burns said he intends to introduce legislation "to create an oversight regime" to safeguard the public interest.

Since April, elected officials, media executives and community organizations have raised questions about the ability of local people meters to accurately measure minority audiences. Despite the public debate and lack of Media Rating Council accreditation in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and "conditional" accreditation in Los Angeles, Nielsen, owned by Adweek Magazines parent VNU, has proceeded with its rollout of the LPM service.

That the MRC could not hold Nielsen in check, raised a red flag with Burns. "Nielsen has chosen to roll out this technology without the concurrence of major stakeholders in the media advertising community and, in particular, without the prior approval of the MRC," Burns wrote. "Public debate has shown that Nielsen exercises effectively unchecked monopoly power over the television ratings industry."

"Based on [the July 15] testimony and subsequent research, it has become clear to me that there are many questions about accuracy and fairness connected with the implementation of the LPM system. Specifically, I remain troubled by the persistent discrepancies between the fault rates for African American and Hispanic households, as well as younger households and larger households," Burns wrote.

Nielsen responded that it is unlikely the FTC would want to involve itself in the regulation of TV ratings, radio ratings or any kind of audience measurement. "Sen. Burns pointed out in his letter that he was 'opposed to heavy-handed government regulation of private enterprise,'" said Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus. "We're confident the FTC will agree."