A couple of high-profile minority groups have taken Nielsen's side against legislation that would increase Media Ratings Council and government oversight of TV ratings, saying such a bill could "harm audiences of color."
The letter from Jesse Jackson (Rainbow/PUSH) and Dorothy Height, chair of the National Council of Negro Women, among others, was sent Monday to the co-chairmen of the Senate Commerce Committee--Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii)--in advance of a planned hearing on the bill Wednesday.
"This bill would delay and even perhaps prevent methods that are more reliably measuring audiences of color from being more widely used in the marketplace," the groups wrote.
The letter's signatories are mostly already on the record backing Nielsen in its high-profile battle to roll out its new ratings technology, but the minority groups' letter is particularly timely given that the bill, introduced by Senator Conrad Burns, was primarily generated by complaints that Nielsen's new Local People Meters (LPMs) undercount minority viewership.
Among the signatories already backing Nielsen are Jackson, Debra Lee, President and COO of BET, and Johnathan Rodgers of TV One.
BET has benefited from the meters, which showed more viewers for the cable net than under the other system and fewer for some broadcast stations, including minority-targeted TV's owned by Fox and others in top market New York.
The minority community's position has been somewhat mixed on the meters.
Last year, then NAACP CEO Kweisi Mfume came out in support of the LPM's as more accurate and reliable. At about the same time, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond was criticizing them.
People meters were launched in 1987 to measure network audiences but are being rolled out for local ratings in the top 10 TV markets, with more to follow.
Look for more Nielsen support letters in the next day or two as the company works as hard to battle the bill as Fox and others did to get it introduced.
The bill, dubbed the FAIR Ratings Act, would require the industry-backed but congressionally created Media Ratings Council MRC to approve any TV ratings system or change in a TV ratings system. It would also attempt to mandate the fairness of that system under threat of client lawsuits, and would require an annual report from the MRC to Washington.