Burns Threatens Nielsen Legislation

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Saying he is disappointed in the Federal Trade Commission's decision that Nielsen Media Research's rollout of "Local People Meters" requires no commission intervention, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) said he would not hesitate to introduce legislation giving the FTC that authority "should the evidence indicate that it would be in the public interest to do so."

The FTC responded to several legislator queries, including Burns', in late March, saying that Nielsen had not misrepresented the meters and that the FTC was not in a position to judge the accuracy of those meters or to enforce general standards of ratings accuracy.

Burns, who held hearings on the Local People Meters last year, said in a letter back to FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras, that the FTC's "focus on a rather narrow 'deceptive and unfair practice' standard regarding the FTC's role was somewhat disappointing."

Burns is concerned that Nielsen has been rolling out the meters in major markets without full accreditation by the Media Ratings Council, pointing to critics who say the meters undercount minorities. Nielsen concedes some problems, but says it is working on them.

"I believe the FTC can and does oversee monopolies in other sectors where the public interest requires it," wrote Burns. "In addition, there are a number of other concerns associated with Nielsen's monopoly position, including pricing and control of the sole-source data it possesses."

Nielsen said the FTC response should end the talk of legislation, but former broadcaster Burns clearly did not agree.