There's not going to be a Government Accounting Office audit of Nielsen Media Research's "Local People Meters" after all.
A group of House Commerce Committee members, including Chairman Joe Barton and Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton, wanted to ask Congress's investigative arm to audit the ratings service.
They had planned to send the letter out last week, but according to a Democratic committee staffer the members concluded that GAO does not have the statutory authority to audit Nielsen. They are considering other options, she said, without elaboration.
The legislators, which included Democrats and Republicans, were concerned about allegations of underreporting of Latino and other minority viewership by Nielsen's new Local People Meters (LPM), which it is rolling out in the nation's top markets over the next few months.
The meters, which replace hand-written diaries, have been up and running in Boston since 2002.
Nielsen has faced opposition from various Hispanic groups, as well as Fox, to its LPM roll-out. The Don't Count Us Out Coalition organized protests in New York and L.A. and has pushed Nielsen for various independent reviews of the service.
Nielsen has been testing the New York LPMs side-bys-de with diaries, and results, which it has supplied to its clients, have shown declines in broadcast viewing, including to Fox stations there. Nielsen says that is because the improved meter technology is showing an actual drop in broadcast viewing in favor of other media, particularly cable.
Meanwhile, Nielsen is already in the midst of an LPM audit by an independent entity with some experience in the process.
The Media Ratings Council, which audits Nielsen for its clients, has been reviewing Nielsen's New York LPM's (standard operating procedure for the launch of a new service) and will vote Thursday on whether or not to accredit it. Nielsen is targeting a June 3 launch in New York, July 8 in L.A., Aug. 5 in Chicago and Sept. 30 in San Francisco.
Even if Nielsen's New York service is accredited by the council, however, Congress may not be placated.
"We still have issues," said Edith Robles, communications director for California Democrat and Commerce Committee member Hilda Solis.
Solis was among a group of Democratic legislators who wrote Nielsen President Susan Whiting in March to express their concerns.
"Regardless of the results, my boss still has pending issues that have not been addressed," said Robles. "Keep in mind that accreditation needs a simple majority," she said.