FCC CHAIRMAN EXPLORING NETWORKS' NIELSEN GRIPES

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt, concerned that Nielsen ratings might be undercounting minorities and children, recently held meetings with executives of NBC, Nielsen Media Research's biggest critic.

NBC Senior VP for Research Nicholas Schivone, in an hourlong phone conversation with Mr. Hundt and a later meeting with FCC staff, detailed the network's concerns about Niel-sen accuracy and reliability.

Other meetings were held with ad agency and Nielsen executives, and more are planned later this month.

NO FORMAL PROBE

FCC said the questioning isn't a formal investigation and admitted it has no direct regulatory authority over Niel-sen. But Mr. Hundt has been vocal in his concern about Niel-sen amid various charges that the ratings system is skewed.

"We rely on Niel-sen data in making policy judgments," said Julius Genachowski, counsel to the chairman. "First, for our own purposes, we need to know of any systematic errors. Second, if there is undercounting and if it is distorting what is on TV, then if there is a clear and direct link between alleged problems at Nielsen and what goes on free TV, we need to know about it."

MARKETPLACE EFFECTS

Allen Banks, executive media director for Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York, and one of those questioned by Mr. Hundt, said: "The concern that there may be some effects in the marketplace caused by the research, or the lack of reliable research, came out loud and clear."

Mr. Banks said the probe was on the possibility of undercounts of 18-to-34-year-old women, teen-agers and younger children, and minorities, and any possible effects that might have on programming and advertiser support.

"There was some feeling [among the agency executives there] that the TV networks were shooting the messenger, especially in the numbers about minorities and young women," said John Kamp, senior VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

`CORDIAL' MEETING

Nielsen called "cordial" the meeting of Mr. Hundt with John Dimling, its president, and Barry Cook, senior VP-chief research officer.

A Nielsen spokesman said the company used the opportunity to brief the FCC on attempts to improve the ratings.

Contributing: Chuck Ross

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