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Anti-Nielsen Advertising Is Opposed

TV industry group says some efforts to block ratings system changes could backfire.

June 09, 2004|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

An influential television group called on its members Tuesday to stop stirring up opposition to Nielsen Media Research's plans to change the way it measures TV ratings in major markets.

The Media Rating Council -- a coalition of major network, cable and advertising executives -- said opposition campaigns should tread carefully, lest they ultimately discourage Latinos and African Americans from participating in Nielsen audience surveys.

Nielsen's plan to modernize its measurement system in Los Angeles and New York has drawn protests from four media companies and spawned a group called Don't Count Us Out. Sources say that the group has received more than $2 million from media mogul Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Don't Count Us Out has been lobbying members of Congress, the Los Angeles City Council and community groups to protest Nielsen's plans. In addition to buying TV and newspaper ads nationwide, Don't Count Us Out has hired phone banks to target Latinos and African Americans and encourage their opposition by alleging that the new system might underrepresent them, potentially leading to the cancellation of popular shows.

Members of the Media Rating Council, which includes a representative of News Corp., have raised their own questions about the new ratings system. But they suggested that TV and newspaper ads went too far.

"Public policy debate is always welcome, but media organizations whose businesses are directly affected by audience ratings should not sponsor or carry advertising ... which could alter participation in measurement surveys," the council's statement said.

The Media Rating Council did not name names. But its statement is widely believed to be aimed at News Corp. and Don't Count Us Out. The council said it would deal privately with the organizations involved.

Critics contend that African American and Latino households have long been undercounted. They fear that the sample audience that Nielsen has put together for its new system also fails to accurately represent minorities.

Three other large media companies -- Viacom Inc.'s CBS network, Univision Communications Inc. and Tribune Co. -- also oppose the measurement changes, citing problems with the sample audience.

Representatives for the three companies, however, say they have not contributed money to Don't Count Us Out. Tribune also publishes the Los Angeles Times.

News Corp. declined to comment beyond a statement released by Don't Count Us Out, which accused the Media Rating Council of "stifling legitimate public debate."

Nielsen, which is owned by Dutch publishing firm VNU, announced the 11 members of a task force to monitor its television measurement system.

Members will include representatives from the NAACP and the Latin Business Assn. in Los Angeles.

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