US Government Declines to Regulate People Meters

08 April 2005

The Federal Trade Commission "sees no reason" to monitor the methodology used by Nielsen Media Research for television audience measurement via its personal people meters.

In a letter to Minnesota Democrat representative Albert Wynn, FTC chair Deborah Platt Majoras wrote: "[Without evidence of] deceptive or unfair practices, it would not be within the commission's authority to impose quality standards for accuracy in audience measurement.

Majoras' letter was released by Nielsen along with a statement expressing the researcher's pleasure that the FTC had decided "there is no need for government regulation of TV ratings".

In the opposite camp, the News Corporation-funded Don't Count Us Out coalition, glee was replaced by gloom. "We are disappointed, but not surprised", said the coalition's executive director Cynthia Rotunno.

The FTC's 'hands-off' decision may not be the end of the story, with over twenty members of Congress pressing it to intervene over the methodology underlying PPMs.

Opponents claim the meters undercount ethnic minorities - an audience segment much valued by NewsCorp units such as Fox and other broadcasters.

Nielsen, magnanimous in victory, called on the coalition and its critics to "work cooperatively with us" to address the concerns about accurately counting minority viewers.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff