CBS/UPN ratings guru David Poltrack talked to B&C Tuesday about Nielsen's under-the-gun Local People Meters (LPM) and new legislation that would mandate Media Rating Council accreditation of its service.
Poltrack (whose official title is executive VP, research and planning, CBS TV) said the current debate over Nielsen's LPM's is not about whether the meters are preferable to the old diary system—they are, he says—but about preserving or strengthening the Media Rating Council to make sure those meters are effectively measuring minority audiences.
It is the council's audit and accreditation system of what is essentially a ratings monopoly in Nielsen that has prompted the improvements already made to the local people meter system, he says. A strong MRC is needed to continue and assure that progress, Poltrack said.
With the caveat that he has a big dog in the fight in UPN, the top broadcast net targeted to African-Americans, Poltrack says that Nielsen had failed to address the challenges of measuring large and more complex minority households before rolling out the system, and that it has been through the ongoing dialogue between the MRC, clients like his company, and Nielsen, that "productive" changes have come about.
As to the need for a bill, which would require MRC accreditation of any TV ratings service or changes to a service, Poltrack says politics is not his area. It is not the bill he is for (or against) but the MRC. He thinks there are nonlegislative solutions, pointing to an MRC proposal of voluntary guidelines that Nielsen would sign on to.
"I want to preserve the power and effectiveness of the MRC auditing and accrediting process. Whether or not this legislation affectively does that is not the major issue," he said.
"Either you allow a monopoly to determine the specifications of their own services, or you allow the industry to participate through a collective body where all groups are represented."
If at the end of the day the MRC is as strong or stronger, then that is the right outcome, he says, but if because of politics the MRC is weakened, that would be a tragedy, he says.