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FCC Proposes Changes in Local Market Data Used for Retrans Talks

Nathan Simington
Commissioner Simington has called for an inquiry into the FCC's use of Nielsen data in its rules. (Image credit: CSPAN)

WASHINGTON D.C.—The FCC has unanimously adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update its rules to ensure TV stations and pay TV providers are using the same data to determine which stations are “local” in retransmission consent negotiations.  

The Commission’s current rules require that local television stations seeking carriage on a pay TV system must determine their local market by reference to the Nielsen annual Station Index Directory in combination with the Nielsen Station Index United States Television Household Estimates. 

Nielsen has announced, however, that those publications are no longer being produced. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would remove these Nielsen publications from the FCC rules, and replace them with Nielsen’s monthly Local TV Station Information Report. 

Chairwoman Rosenworcel, commissioners Carr, Starks, and Simington approved the changes. 

But Republican commissioner Nathan Simington issued a lengthy statement calling into question the FCC's overall use of Nielsen data and stated that “I therefore believe the Commission should open a notice of inquiry related to Nielsen’s inclusion in nearly two dozen Commission rules and the Commission’s reliance on Nielsen data.”

Chairwoman Rosenworcel did not respond to the idea of examining the wider use of Niesen data. 

“We are taking note of the fact that the law provides us with the opportunity to consider a `successor publication’ in the event the original Nielsen publication is no longer available,” she wrote in a separate statement. “This rulemaking kicks off that effort.”

Simington noted that problems with Nielsen’s data has resulted in Nielsen losing accreditation with the MRC. While he expressed confidence that Nielsen would resolve those problems, he raised a point many broadcasters have been making for years—namely that they need better measurement tools to compete with tech giants who have been grabbing a larger share of audiences. 

“The broadcast industry has been losing to online platforms in the advertising competition,” Simington said. “Of course, there are reasons for this outside of the accuracy and completeness of audience analytics—the secular trend of media consumption is toward online platforms, which drives the advertising dollar.  Okay, sure.  But is it not at least worth taking into account that among the considerations that advertisers—especially small businesses—cite for doing online advertising is the high trust they place in granular audience analytics?”

Noting that the FCC referenced Nielsen in 23 of their rules, Simington concluded that: “If there are opportunities to identify or generate new sources of broadcast data, we should take them. If there are improvements to be made in our usage of broadcast data, we should make them. And if our ties to Nielsen ultimately represent a structural impediment to the public interest, necessity, and convenience—we should break them.”

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.