Six of Arbitron’s group clients – including the biggest of all, Clear Channel – have told Arbitron what they think the company needs to be doing to improve their confidence in using Portable People Meter data as ratings currency. The joint letter doesn’t call for Arbitron to change its recent decision to resume the PPM rollout this fall, but does spell out four areas where the groups are demanding changes by Arbitron to meet their expectations for PPM. One is that Arbitron achieve Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation for the panel recruitment methodology it has been using in Philadelphia and New York – and plans to use in all future PPM markets – by July 30, 2009, essentially a year from now. Otherwise, they want the methodology used in Houston put in place for all existing PPM markets “at no additional cost to all existing PPM subscribers.”
Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey told RBR/TVBR last evening that he is concerned that the PPM experience thus far has the industry going right back into the problems it has experienced with diaries. “I think we’re trying to be constructive,” he said of the points spelled out in the joint letter.
Cox Radio CEO Bob Neil told RBR/TVBR he was tired of hearing Arbitron executives talk about improvements in PPM samples. “Enough with the progress. Get to the finish line,” he said.
Arbitron had no immediate comment on the letter when contacted last evening.
RBR/TVBR observation: We doubt that anyone at Arbitron thought this battle was over when the company announced that, in the judgment of its experts, PPM was ready for the rollout to resume. Certainly Cox, Inner City and Saga have been very public in their dissatisfaction with where PPM stands today, particularly the lack of MRC accreditation. Now two of the giants – the groups whose payments are essential to Arbitron’s bottom line – have joined in the public protest – Clear Channel and Cumulus – along with Radio One, the largest Urban specialist radio company.
So, now we have a countdown. Whether or not Arbitron agrees to the June 30, 2009 deadline, that date now has significance. MRC audits of several PPM markets should be completed well before then. If at least one wins accreditation, the critics will be silenced – or at least toned down.
Read the letter:
June 20, 2008
Mr. Steve Morris
Mr. Pierre Bouvard
Mr. Owen Charlebois
The Arbitron Company
142 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
On November 26th of last year you decided to delay commercialization of the PPM radio ratings service in nine markets. Steve Morris’ comment at the time was “We remain confident in the audience estimates that the Portable People Meter ™ service is producing. However, over the past three weeks, feedback from our customers, the Media Rating Council and other constituencies has led us to conclude that the radio industry would be better served if we were to delay further commercialization of the PPM in order to address their issues.”
Last week you announced the PPM currency rollout will resume as of the September 2008 – along with a strategy of continuous improvement. As paying customers and those who rely upon the credibility of the information to transact billions of dollars worth of business we feel an obligation to provide you this industry confidence update. Speaking as the vast majority of the industry our confidence in the system has not been fully restored as of this writing. This letter provides detail on what is required for us to move towards having the same confidence in the data that you expressed in November.
We understand the need for and remain ardent supporters of having a high quality electronic ratings measurement tool for the radio industry. But, what Arbitron has produced to date does not meet our expectations of a high quality measurement tool. Therefore, we anticipate your expedient resolution of the items outlined on the following pages.
Clear Channel Radio
Inner City Broadcast Holdings
Radio One Inc.
Saga Communications Inc.
1. 18-54 sample size /sample size guarantee
Your providing a “sample guarantee” at 80% of the markets sample target effective with the third month of currency, backed by a financial rebate. There’s also a plan to move some of the current 55+ sample into 18-54 – no hard date for implementation.
100% delivery of 18-54 target beginning with the first month of currency, including the sample guarantee with a financial rebate.
18-54 age cells are used for the vast majority of radio’s buy/sell transactions. We expected to get 100% of the sample size when we bought PPM; as more markets roll-out this issue will become even more critical in smaller markets since Arbitron’s starting sample targets decrease.
2. 18-34 sample sizes (All demos including ethnic)
You’ve set benchmarks (not financially backed guarantees) for sample target delivery. These include 70% in a market’s first year of measurement and 80% in year two. Adults, Men and Women are covered – as well as Black and Hispanics in markets where they exceed 10% of the population. “Other” 18-34 is also covered if Black or Hispanic exceeds 10%.
A much steeper improvement ramp; leading to 100% delivery in the form of sample guarantees backed by financial rebates, not benchmarks. This would include all demographic groups as described above. The following sample target guarantees make more sense to the industry:
6 months 80%
1 year 85%
18 months 90%
2 years 100%
We expected full sample size delivery when we signed up for PPM – and had a right to. Getting 80% of that number two years into the deal is unacceptable. Failure to fully meet these targets makes it difficult, if not impossible to evaluate a stations success or use the data to transact business.
3. Childrens (age 6-11) measurement
Children 6-11 comprise approximately 10% of the meters in the PPM sample. We have repeatedly requested these meters be re-allocated to persons over the age of 12. Arbitron has been steadfast in its reluctance to do so citing “cost considerations, IT issues, and interest from a number of customers in 6-11 year old data.”
All PPM markets that commercialize (ie first month of currency) after January 1, 2009 will have panels that 1) consist only of Persons 12+ 2) are no smaller than the currently scheduled sample target. In addition beginning January 1, 2009 6-11 year old measurement will be phased out in existing PPM markets through panel turnover. As households leave the panel in these markets they will be replaced by those that provide meters only to persons 12+.
When PPM sample size targets were calculated at approximately 33% of the markets diary level, you converted a 12+ diary figure to a 6+ base in PPM – meaning we didn’t get a full 33% conversion into 12+ PPM meters. Adding the 6-11 year old meters back into a 12+ base will correct this, and expedite the building of 18-34 and 18-54 sample sizes. Children 6-11 measurement is a remnant of your proposed joint venture with Nielsen; the vast majority of the radio industry never asked for, never wanted and still has no need for it.
4. MRC Accreditation for Radio First methodology prior to commercialization
You’ve been consistent and resolute; no waiting for accreditation before making PPM currency in all markets beyond Houston. We recognize this aligns with the MRC’s Voluntary Code of Conduct.
Our expectation is that you will achieve MRC accreditation for the Radio First PPM methodology on or before June 30, 2009. If accreditation is not received by the deadline, the Houston “best practices” methodology will be installed in all markets rolled out going forward. In addition, Arbitron will take the steps necessary to put the current Houston methodology in all existing PPM markets at no additional cost to all existing PPM subscribers.
The industry is not asking for every market to gain accreditation prior to currency – only that the Radio First PPM system gains accreditation ONE TIME before currency implementation. Also, the diary and Houston PPM methodologies have accreditation; all radio markets should be using an accredited product. This is a reasonable expectation given the critical importance of the data to our underlying business and the substantial increases in rates that accompanied the rollout of PPM. Finally, the MRC code of conduct doesn’t require accreditation prior to currency, but does prefer it – “The MRC prefers that a Participating Measurement Service seeking to replace an accredited currency measurement product with a new currency measurement product (both products provided by the same Participating Measurement Service) uses best efforts to obtain accreditation of the new product prior to its commercialization.”
cc: Ed Christian