Ratings Coalition Launches Ad Campaign

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The Don't Count Us Out coalition is a launching a new print/online campaign in its effort to increase independent oversight of Nielsen Media Research ratings.

The print campaign will include buys in African American- and Hispanic-targeted newspapers, particularly in D.C. and Philadelphia, the next two cities to get Nielsen's new Local People Meters, as well as in major trade publications--including B&C and co-owned Variety.

The ad campaign is being handled by The Glover Park Group, the consulting firm that Fox has used to spearhead its major support of the coalition. 

The online effort will include a new area on the coalition's Web site, www.dontcountusout.com,

where it will track Nielsen's progress in implementing the recommendations of an independent task force created to address meter concerns. Those concerns include that Nielsen improve its sampling and decrease its fault rates (user's who don't accurately record viewing) for the new LPMs it is rolling out in 10 major markets, with more to come.

The Coalition will also continue to lobby Congress to give the Federal Trade Commission the power to oversee the Nielsen ratings.

That pledge to keep up the fight came in the wake of last week's letter from the FTC to to Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), in which FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras said that the FTC was not in the business of setting standards for ratings or of judging how accurate various ratings systems are.

Burns, who held hearings on the meters, had written asking what authority the FTC had over Nielsen. Majoras also said it looked like self-regulation was working, citing Nielsen's cooperation with the client-backed Media Ratings Council on addressing meter problems.

In a conference call Monday, Coalition members characterized the task force recommendations, issued last month, as a victory for the group's efforts over the last year, but they also said they must now make sure Nielsen follows through. "Monopolies don't regulate themselves," said Gilbert F. Casellas, coalition member and former chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Clinton (1994-98).

Coalition members were touchy on the subject of Fox's backing of the coalition. When asked why they did not mention Fox as a member or even an ally during the call, coalition campaign manager Josh Lahey pointed out that they did not mention Tribune or CBS, either, though conceded neither of those fund the coalition, as does Fox.

Invoking the civil rights movement, independent producer Richard Willis, who co-produced the Peabody-winning Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, argued that questions about Fox's money and backing distracted from the real issues of undercounting minorities and the impact that has on what kind of programming gets produced.

He said that people used to ask Dr. Martin Luther King who his funders were "rather than why are thousands being denied the right to vote."

In reference to the suggestion that it is a civil rights issue, Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said: "This is about TV ratings and nothing else. This is about better, more accurate, measurement of what people are watching on television, and this is exactly what Nielsen is trying to do." 

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