Arbitron sues Cuomo


They say the best defense is a good offense – and Arbitron went on the offensive yesterday. The company filed suit in federal court against New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who had threatened a state lawsuit over deployment of the Portable People Meter (PPM) system in New York. Arbitron has asked a federal judge to rule that publication of PPM data is protected by the First Amendment. It also wants a temporary restraining order to bar Cuomo from doing anything to block release of PPM listening data.

In seeking federal court intervention, Arbitron argued that any restraint on the publication of its PPM listening estimates would have an adverse impact on the radio broadcast industry and advertising industries as a whole, would cause Arbitron’s business to suffer severe irreparable harm and would cause economic injury to Arbitron’s shareholders. It’s lawsuit claimed that the threatened action by Cuomo violates Arbitron’s First Amendment rights to publish its radio audience listening estimates.

Arbitron said it is seeking a judgment declaring that the publication of its PPM listening estimates is fully protected by the US and New York Constitutions; and a preliminary and permanent injunction along with a temporary restraining order enjoining the New York Attorney General from attempting to restrain or prevent Arbitron from publishing its PPM listening estimates.

“Arbitron publicly announced in November 2007 that we intended to commercialize our Portable People Meter radio ratings service in New York with the release of the September 2008 PPM survey report on October 8, 2008. The New York Attorney General has waited until October 2, less than a week before our scheduled commercialization, to notify Arbitron that his office intends to bring a lawsuit seeking to enjoin alleged violations of New York law. Such conduct is unfair to Arbitron and is unfair to the radio and advertising industries. We are asking the United States District Court to uphold our First Amendment rights and to prevent the New York Attorney General from attempting to restrain publication of our Portable People Meter listening estimates,” said Arbitron CEO Steve Morris in announcing the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Arbitron sped up its deployment of PPM, so the electronic data is now official ratings currency in eight more markets. See the related story.

RBR/TVBR observation: You can’t reason with an out-of-control political hack, so don’t even try. Arbitron must focus on winning Media Rating Council accreditation for PPM in New York and other post-Houston markets – and radio clients need to hold the company’s feet to the fire to get the PPM sample right and win those MRC double-checks. Andrew Cuomo has no role to play in this and the federal court should put him in his place.