Commerce Seeks GAO Audit of Nielsen


It looks like there is going to be at least one independent audit of Nielsen Media Research, and maybe more.

The House Commerce Committee next week is going to ask the GAO to conduct a study of Nielsen's Local People Meters.

Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) and Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) are motormanning the request, but committee spokesman Jon Tripp says there is widespread interest on the committee for the study.

They are said to want a side-by-side comparison of the new Local People Meters and the traditional diary methods and will ask that Nielsen use both contemporaneously until the study is completed.

No word on the timetable for such a report, but GAO studies usually take months, not weeks.

A Coalition of minority, activist groups, politicians and others have been pushing for an independent audit of Local People Meters, including writing Nielsen President Susan Whiting Wednesday after Nielsen told Broadcasting & Cable the company would not oppose such an audit if it were requested and paid for by its clients.

The Coalition also asked Wednesday that Nielsen delay its roll out of the meters until a study was completed. The coalition has been actively trying to block the roll out for months.

The meters are in use in Boston, are up and running though not launched in New York, and are targeted for a July roll out in L.A.

"The Don’t Count Us Out Coalition welcomes the efforts of the United States Congress to audit Nielsen’s experimental new ratings system," the group said in a statement. The coalition, backed by some legislators and with the support of Fox, argues that the meters undercount minorities. Nielsen argues that what they do is accurately reflect that audience's dispersal to other places, particularly cable.

Nielsen is already audited by the Media Rating Council, which was created in the 1960's at the behest of Congress and with the OK of the Justice Department, to assure the validity of data from Nielsen, Arbitron and others. Word is the committee might aks the MRC to conduct a study along with GAO.

As for the GAO study, "We want to resolve any uncertainty about the Local People Meters, determine whether Nielsen's methodologies are flawed, and answer any questions about the service," said Tripp.