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TVBR observation, Part 2
Sen. Burns bill and the four Amigos!
Do we need a federal law

What's Congress going to do about that? Do we need a federal law to mandate participation in media ratings surveys? Should we revoke the driver's licenses of young males who forget to punch their button on a set-top box? How about a weekend of home detention (with a Martha Stewart designed ankle bracelet) for teens who unplug a meter to hook up their video game box and then don't put things back properly? Such ideas are ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than thinking that turning the MRC into a federal ratings cop will boost ratings for the News Corporation and Tribune TV stations. That, after all, is what this is about. Those two companies, in particular, have seen ratings go down for shows targeting younger African-American viewers on their stations in LPM markets - - and they want somehow to force Nielsen to boost their ratings back to where they were with the meter/diary method. So, were the ratings overstated by the meter/diary method (with parents "helping" their kids complete their diary entries) or understated by LPM (with youngsters unconcerned about doing something that their parents committed them to). Probably a bit of both.


Broadcasters complain if Nielsen's LPM sample has too many minority households without children. But they also complain about the higher fault rates that result from households with lots of kids. Broadcasters and Nielsen should work together to come up with ways to improve the LPM sample and reduce fault rates. Getting Congress involved is stupid and counterproductive. If S.1372 becomes law, not only will MRC accreditation become mandatory, but broadcasters will also be able to sue if ratings data doesn't meet an unspecified standard of accuracy. Don't think that opens a can of worms? Mad because your ratings went down? Just sue Nielsen. Can you imagine the number of frivolous lawsuits that's going to lead to every year? And that's just one of the negatives of the Burns bill. As we've noted repeatedly, making MRC accreditation mandatory will slow down improvements in ratings technology and methodology. That will carry real costs for broadcasters, both in terms of higher prices for ratings and reduced spending by advertisers if TV lags behind other media in terms of ratings accountability. Also, right away, quite a few TV stations and cable networks targeting ethnic audiences will be hurt because Nielsen would have to shut down "illegal" specialty ratings offerings, such the Nielsen Hispanic-American Television Index, which don't even qualify for MRC accreditation. The TV industry will gain nothing from passage of S.1372, but it will be hurt by it. We continue to be amazed that any broadcasters think this is a good idea.



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