Nielsen Backs New MRC Code

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Nielsen Media CEO Susan Whiting plans to emphasize to a Senate committee that regulating TV ratings will slow the development of innovation in the TV business, also saying Nielsen would agree to signing on to a new voluntary Media Ratings Council (MRC) audit and accreditation code that allows Nielsen to respond nimbly to rating new technologies including DVR's, DVD recorders and VOD.

Whiting told a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday--on a bill filed by Sen. Conrad Burns that would force Nielsen to submit to new authority given to the Media Rating Council--that Nielsen agrees to the new code of conduct in principle, and is working with MRC on the details, though she said she expected them to come to agreement and to be able to submit it to the FTC and Justice for a business review.

Currently a private group of research executives from media companies and ad agencies, the MRC would act with government authority to approve or block any change in the TV ratings systems. The bill is being pushed by News Corp.’s Fox, but is getting support from a number of TV station owners. A similar bill is winding through the house.

Whiting said that if the bill passed, “Vital new systems for measuring all forms of digital television could remain idle while MRC members debated. In an environment that is becoming increasingly governed by political and economic self-interest, that process could literally take years.”

Whiting also argues that the proposed bills would thwart competition, making it more difficult for a potential rival to enter the business.

She claims it would also limit competition from new programmers “especially from smaller, independent, and minority-owned stations and networks looking to compete against media giants.

"More precise ratings technology enhances the voice of minorities by making possible niche programming on new cable networks and television stations aimed at the African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Arab-American communities. These advancements could grind to a halt with mandatory ratings accreditation,” she said.

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