Arbitron makes PPM pledges to Copps


New CEO Michael Skarzynski and other Arbitron officials met with FCC Acting Chairman Michael Copps a few days ago and assured him that the company will continue to pursue MRC accreditation and meet with broadcasters and the ad community to improve PPM. But they warned that a formal FCC investigation would divert resources from the improvement effort.

Skarzynski and three lawyers (two in-house and one from a communications law firm) met March 5th with Copps, according to a follow-up filing by the company, who was joined by his legal advisor and another staffer. The Arbitron officials provided Copps with an update on the “continuous improvement program” for its Radio First PPM service and the recent legal settlements with the Attorneys General of New York, New Jersey and Maryland. That presentation also included information on Skarzynski’s recent letter to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) concerning questions about how well PPM counts minority audiences and the company’s announcement of new enhancements to all PPM markets.

“In response to a question from Chairman Copps, Mr. Skarzynski pledged that Arbitron will continue to (1) seek accreditation from the Media Rating Council, Inc. of the Radio First PPM service in all markets where that service has been and will be commercialized, and (2) work with stakeholders in the radio broadcasting and advertising communities, and others, to improve the Radio First PPM service and to assist interested parties in taking advantage of the increased information that is available through PPM and that is not available under the diary-based system which PPM is in the process of replacing. Arbitron also pledged to keep Chairman Copps informed of deve1opments of interest in connection with its continuous improvement program for PPM.

Arbitron’s counsel noted that grant of the PPM Coalition’s September 2, 2008 ‘Emergency Petition for Section 403 Inquiry’ would likely result in retarding the continuous improvement program by diverting the time, energy, attention, and resources of key Arbitron personnel involved in that program to litigation-related tasks associated with a formal Commission investigation under Section 403 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.c. § 403 – including document review, production of testimony, assertion of protection from disclosure of proprietary data and confidential trade secrets, assertion of evidentiary privileges, and associated backward-looking trial-type preparation – and would discourage further innovation in developing enhancements to Radio First, since Arbitron’s adversaries would undoubtedly try to portray each such innovation as a tacit admission that the service prior to such innovation was somehow inadequate,” the letter filed by Arbitron’s counsel, John Griffith Johnson Jr. of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP, stated.

The letter had attached Skarzynski’s letter to Sen. Menendez and the March 2nd press release detailing PPM enhancements.

The FCC has had pending since last September a petition by the PPM Coalition seeking a Commission investigation of PPM, charging that the ratings methodology “grossly undercounts and misrepresents the number and loyalty of minority radio listeners.” The PPM Coalition is made up of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, Border Media Partners, Entravision Communications Corporation, ICBC Broadcast Holdings Inc., Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, SBS Radio, Spanish Radio Association and Univision Radio.

The formal comment period ended last October, but the FCC has continued to receive comments and presentations on whether or not it should launch a probe of PPM. No action has been taken.

RBR/TVBR observation: Not really a change of position for Arbitron, but a new face as Skarzynski tries to establish good relations with the FCC. Arbitron has been providing lots of information about PPM to the Commission, even as it stuck by its position that the FCC has no legal authority to launch a formal investigation.