Groups demand FCC probe of PPM


Several groups which have been critical of Arbitron’s Portable People Meter – and particularly how it counts minority audiences – have now filed an emergency petition calling for the FCC to investigate PPM. The joint request comes from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, the Spanish Radio Association, the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, and five radio group owners: Border Media, Entravision, Univision, SBS and Inner City. They charge that the methodology that Arbitron is using for all markets since Houston "dramatically undercounts and misrepresents the listening habits of minorities – so much so that the continuing viability of minority radio stations is seriously threatened."

In its own statement last evening, Arbitron defended the quality and accuracy of PPM. “Arbitron does not believe that the FCC has jurisdiction over the Company or
its operations and assets and consequently lacks the authority to commence” the requested emergency investigation, the company said. “Nevertheless, we are committed to continue our voluntary meetings with the FCC,” Arbitron added.

"NABOB has been meeting with Arbitron for almost two years seeking improvement in Arbitron’s PPM system. From the beginning NABOB has advised Arbitron that its PPM methodology showed deficiencies in the recruitment, retention and participation of the sample panel, and these deficiencies have resulted in a significant under representation of younger African Americans in the PPM results. In addition, NABOB has objected to PPM’s attribution of sporadic listening and the failure to have a metric that reflects listener engagement. In response to our concerns we have received only vague assurances from Arbitron that PPM will be perfected by 2010," said NABOB Executive Director Jim Winston. "We can’t wait that long for Arbitron to get it right. If they don’t fix PPM now, some of our member stations may not be in business in 2010," he added.

According to Arbitron, the petitioners have failed to acknowledge “the commitment that Arbitron has made to continued dialogue with Urban and Hispanic broadcasters and agencies; the superiority of the PPM over the paper and pencil diary as a survey tool; the significant improvements that we¹ve delivered in the quality of our PPM samples in terms of African-American, Hispanic and Spanish-Dominant representation; the outreach we are making to the advertisers who target African-American and Hispanic consumers.”

“Our PPM samples are designed to effectively represent the diversity of the African-American and  Spanish-language radio marketplace and of all the markets we measure in terms of age, sex, race, ethnicity and Spanish-language preference. The PPM is a more reliable survey instrument than the paper and pencil diary, which relies heavily on memory and recall. Arbitron¹s role as an independent research company is to provide stations and advertisers with information that is based on the actual behavior of radio audiences. That is what PPM delivers today,” the ratings company said.

RBR/TVBR observation:
The first issue to be decided is whether the FCC even has jurisdiction over radio ratings. That is a huge hurdle for the petitioners to clear. Should the FCC decide that it does, Arbitron would no doubt head to court and try to get a federal judge to rule to the contrary. As we have previously noted, the FCC also lacks the in-house expertise to analyze media ratings methodology. So, from a practical perspective, how would it go about conducting the requested investigation?