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Comcast Spotlight Opposes MRC Bill

Comcast Spotlight, the ad-sales arm of Comcast Corp., has joined in the opposition to a bill that calls for mandatory oversight of TV-ratings services by the Media Rating Council, an industry body, officials disclosed Thursday.

In a letter dated July 18, Comcast Spotlight president Charles Thurston outlined his objections to the “Fair Ratings” bill that has been introduced in the Senate by Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).

The bill, as well as one introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.), mandates than any ratings company -- Nielsen Media Research or any other service -- must secure accreditation for its measurement systems from the MRC.

“While there has been a persistent effort by certain broadcasting companies -- and organizations they have funded -- to portray this debate as affecting the public interest, the simple fact is that those companies are trying to hold back technological progress because it threatens their bottom line,” Thurston wrote.

Comcast sent its letter to Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), vice chairman of that same committee.

The Senate Commerce Committee has set a hearing next Wednesday on the Burns bill. The scheduled witnesses include: MRC executive director George Ivie; Nielsen president Susan Whiting; Ceril Shagrin, Univision Communications Inc.’s executive vice president; Tribune Broadcasting CEO Pat Mullen; Kathy Crawford, president of local broadcast for MindShare Worldwide; and Gale Metzger, former CEO of Smart Media Ltd.

Earlier this week, several groups came out both in favor of and opposed to the Burns bill.

The National Association of Broadcasters is putting its support behind the legislation.

“We share your goal of ensuring MRC’s continued robust involvement in maintaining a fair and reliable media-measurement system,” NAB CEO Edward Fritts wrote in a letter to Burns Wednesday.

“As a matter of principle, NAB generally prefers voluntary interindustry cooperation to additional government involvement as a solution to these issues,” Fritts continued. “However, in the absence of voluntary resolution, we wish to voice our support for S. 1372 [Burns’ bill].”

Earlier this week, the Independent Task Force on Television Measurement and San Francisco-based Asian-language broadcaster KTSF both voiced their opposition to Burns’ bill.

The independent task force was created last year to evaluate Nielsen’s measurement of African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American audiences.