Hill Dems Call for Nielsen Audit

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Some powerful members of Congress are calling for an external audit of the Nielsen Media Research ratings system.

Four House Democrats have written Nielsen--with copies to the major broadcast nets--to complain about what they say is underreporting of Latino viewership by the ratings service.

Prompted by a report from the National Hispanic Media Council (NHMC) that charged Nielsen with "severe undercounts," particularly of Latino viewing to English-language programming, Representatives Hilda Solis (Calif.) and Charles Gonzalez (Texas), joined by ranking Commerce Committee Democrat John Dingell (Mich.) and ranking Telecommunications Subcommittee Democrat Ed Markey (Mass.) sent the letter to Nielsen President Susan Whiting Thursday.

Nielsen had just received the letter and was still preparing a response. Spokesman Jack Loftus did say that Nielsen was surprised by the call for an audit, given that Nielsen's national and local service is already audited by the Media Rating Council, which is made up of buyers and networks, including Spanish-language Univision.

Citing the NHMC report, the lawmakers suggested that among Nielsen's faults were insufficient recruitment of Latinos for research panels and "failure to enclude Latino markets with higher concentrations of U.S. born Latinos in surveys."

The consequences to the Latino community, they said, are cancelled shows and lost jobs. Broadcasters also lose out, they say, giving up "millions of dollars in lost revenue from advertisers seeking to reach the fast-growing Latino community, now the largest minority group in the United States with a purchasing power of $653 billion in 2003.

"We encourage you to seek an external audit of the system," they wrote. "Also, a thorough evaluation of the entertainment needs and preferences of U.S.-born and foreign-born Latinos would be helpful." Not to comply with their request, the House members said, "is a disservice not only to the television and advertising industries, but also to television viewers in general."

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