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Coalition Pushes Nielsen for Audit

The Don't Count Us Out Coalition -- which has been trying to block Nielsen Media Research's rollout of "Local People Meters," charging that they undercount minority viewing -- is sending a letter to ratings company president Susan Whiting proposing a meeting on the coalition's call for an independent audit of the ratings service.

Nielsen is already independently audited by the Media Rating Council, which is backed by Nielsen's clients, but the Coalition wants another audit, specifically targeting what they claim is undercounting of Hispanic and African American viewers by the new Local People Meters (LPMs) that Nielsen is planning to roll out in 10 markets over the next two years.

The letter, from National Hispanic Media Coalition President Alex Nogales, came after a Nielsen spokesman told B&C Tuesday that the company would agree to an audit if backed and funded by the broadcast and cable companies, advertisers and TV time buyers and sellers that contract for its services. Nielsen suggested the coalition contact its clients about such an audit, but the group is still pushing Nielsen to take the lead.

"We write today to seek a meeting as soon as possible to move the independent audit process forward," wrote Nogales.  "We hope you will agree that the LPM system should be delayed until the audit is complete and the panel should convene as soon as possible. 

"By agreeing to work with coalition members to get it right, Nielsen has acknowledged that undercounting people of color matters.  An independent audit will help get to the bottom of the systematic undercounting of minorities."

Nogales suggested a panel of "academic experts" conduct the study, five chosen by them, five by Nielsen, co-chaired by one from each group.

Nielsen was seeing things differently Wednesday. Rather than being a concession of flaws, "our willingness to be audited reflects our confidence in our ratings system, "said Nielsen spokesman Rich Myers of the coalition's characterization of Nielsen's willingness to be audited. He had not been reached for comment at press time about the letter itself.