The NAB has come out in support of a bill that would increase government oversight of TV ratings.
"As a matter of principle, NAB generally preferse voluntary inter-industry cooperation to additional government involvement as a solution to these issues. however, in the absence of voluntary resolution, we wish to voice our support for S. 1272," NAB President Eddie Fritts wrote Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who introduced the bill.
NAB pointed to the "absence of a fully competitive market," in advocating the legislation.
The bill would require Nielsen or any other TV ratings system to get accreditation by the Media Ratings Council for its system or any changes to its system.
The bill would also mandate accuracy in "all the aspects of audience viewing behavior that it is intended, or is represented, to convey, using accurate statistical methods and social sciences data," a mandate that would appear somewhat problematicin its enforcement, though clients could sue for inaccuracy.
The MRC would also be required to report annually to the FTC, FCC and Congress.
The council was created by Congress in the 1960's, but its accreditation is voluntary not mandatory.
That accreditation has become an issue lately with the roll-out of Nielsen's Local People Meters, which have drawn criticism from some stations, including Fox, Tribune and Allbritton, for undercounting minorities and younger viewers.
Nielsen is working to improve fault rates for the meters--people unable to use them effectively, but also contends the ratings more accurately reflect changes in viewing patterns, including the flight of some viewers to other media, including cable.
The Fox-backed Don't Count Us Out coalition opposing the meters has been lobbying hard for the bill, and a complementary one in the House, in Washington.
Fritts said in the letter that "further modification of the bill may be necessary," but that "we stand ready to work with you and your staff."
For its part, Nielsen said NAB had traded principles for profit: "We are surprised that the NAB, which has been a champion of the free market and a free broadcasting system, would abandon its position under pressure from some of its largest members who are so desperately seeking the government's support to prop up their financial empires," said Nielsen in a statement, "and this at the expense of minority-owned channels who need the more accurate ratings technology to compete.
"The NAB has sacrificed its principles on the alter of greed. There is also a warning here: it is about he who foolishly rides the back of the tiger..."
In its defense, Nielsen pointed to a letter to Congress opposing the from Comcast Spotlight, which sells ad time on cable. In the letter, Comcast Spotlight President Charles Thurston says that "the continuing effort by some in the broadcasting industry to impede technological progress...will harm viewers, advertisers, and programmers."
Some, though not all, cable networks have seen their ratings go up with People Meters.