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The scheduled witnesses are:
Opening Statement of Senator Conrad Burns
Good morning. First, I would like to thank all the witnesses for taking the time and trouble to appear today. I look forward to a stimulating exchange of views this afternoon.
Some of us were gathered here a year ago at a hearing that I convened to hear about the problems encountered in phasing in Nielsen’s Local People Meters in several cities around the country. The questions then were whether this deployment caused minority and other groups to be undercounted, and whether Nielsen had listened enough to all its customers before rolling out the technology. And the answers appeared to be yes and no, respectively. At the end of that hearing, Senator Boxer and I told the witnesses that it would be best if they all could work out the problems among themselves.
Well, they haven’t. In this technical area that usually does not get a lot of attention, we have had a year of continued controversy. And so we have a bill. I introduced this bill because I wanted a solution to this problem, and I didn’t see that voluntary industry efforts were making any headway at all. I still think that a voluntary industry solution would have been best for all concerned. I understand the Media Rating Council has come forth with a Voluntary Code of Conduct, but that Nielsen will not sign on without major changes. I look forward to hearing more on that today. But I wonder what happens to “voluntary” cooperation once things get tough, or once Congress is not paying attention, as we are today.
This bill is NOT about Local People Meters. This Nielsen technology may or may not be state-of-the-art, but if it is better than the diary system, and Nielsen’s customers want it, then so be it. And I also do not believe it is in the public interest to worry about whether a given company’s ratings go up or down – that is something for the market to decide. I think we all can agree about that.
This bill is about accountability. It is about making sure that the system is fair and accurate for all Americans. It would compel Nielsen to come to the table with the auditors at the Media Rating Council, and accept their changes if minimum accuracy standards are not met. That is what I care about. That is why I got involved in this debate, and I believe I have constructed legislation that will make sure this is the case, today and in the future.
Nielsen needs some kind of effective oversight because it is the only game in town. Companies who need TV ratings data do not have anywhere else to go today – even if they have serious concerns about Nielsen’s numbers or methods. MRC oversight, with meaningful enforcement power, would remedy this situation in the best possible way – because the MRC is made up of Nielsen’s customers.
The bill would not involve any government agency. The MRC would retain its independence and responsiveness to its members as a private-sector expert group. The industry self-regulating model has been approved by Congress many times, in many different sectors of the economy. I think that the MRC model has been working well for 40 years, but recent events have shown that it lacks the power to enforce its findings. They need some teeth, and my bill would give them some.
The bill would also set the stage for a strong MRC role in guaranteeing the accuracy of new technologies. We have several new systems that may soon be deployed by Nielsen or others that would capture time-shifted viewing and out-of-home viewing, or other methods that may not be developed yet.
Of special interest to me, though, is a decision that the MRC took in March to take another look at the diary system. This method, unchanged since the 1950s, is still in use in over 150 local TV markets around the country – including all of them in Montana, and many others all over rural America.
With this decision, as I understand it, the MRC has asked Nielsen to cooperate on a review of the accuracy of the diary system. I would hate to think that the people in rural areas and small towns all over this country are less important than people in the big cities where Nielsen is spending its resources on People Meters. Rural viewers were very important to me when I ran a network of rural TV and radio stations, and I had to depend totally on Nielsen data for my business. So I hope Nielsen will cooperate with the MRC on this. If it does not, in my mind, that is another important reason for the bill to pass.
Nielsen ratings determine the value of literally billions of dollars in advertising. Because our TV industry is supported largely by advertising dollars, Nielsen ratings, in the end, determine which television shows get aired and which get cancelled, and so ultimately determine what kind of content is distributed on our public airwaves.
So television ratings systems have extraordinary cultural, social and economic implications. Even in the era of the Internet, television remains our national town-hall. It is the medium that brings Americans together and it is the shared space that shapes our national experience. And in a very real sense, the ratings generated by Nielsen determine content in that shared space. So the American public has a clear and compelling interest in ensuring that these ratings systems are as fair and accurate as possible. All viewers must be counted.
I hope we can all agree on that. And I believe that the FAIR Ratings bill is an important step in that direction.
Witness Panel 1
Mr. Gale MetzgerFormer CEOSMART Media
Ms. Susan WhitingPresident and CEONielsen Media Research
Ms. Kathy CrawfordPresident Local BroadcastMindShare Worldwide
Mr. Pat MullenCEOTribune Broadcasting
Mr. George IvieExecutive Director and CEOMedia Rating Council
Ms. Ceril ShagrinExecutive Vice President for ResearchUnivision