Members of Congress seek GAO probe of PPM


Following up on his recent hearing, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and nine other Members of Congress have requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a detailed analysis of Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM), particularly whether its surveys “adequately account” for minority listeners, young listeners and cell phone only households. 

“Considerable concern has been raised by broadcasters about the accuracy of data collected by the Arbitron Portable People Meters. The advertising revenues and viability of minority-owned radio stations depends on an accurate measurement of their audience ratings. I believe it would best serve the public interest to conduct an independent review of the methodology and accuracy of this process,” said Conyers in announcing the probe requested from GAO.

The letter asks GAO to “conduct a detailed analysis of Arbitron’s share of the terrestrial radio station ratings system marketplace, the methodology behind the company’s PPM and its survey samples, how the PPM system has affected radio station advertising revenues” and then focus on four specific issues:

“(1) Whether the survey samples adequately account for young African American, Hispanic, and other minority listeners;

(2) Whether the survey samples adequately account for cell phone-only households;

(3) Whether the survey samples adequately account for non-English speaking people;

(4) Whether the survey samples sufficiently approximate geographic granularity, as well as income and country of origin data.”

The letter asks the GAO to complete the report no later than the end of April 2010 and asks that the Judiciary Committee be updated as the study progresses. The entire letter is attached as a pdf on this page.

The only Republican to sign the letter is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). In addition to Conyers, the Democrats who signed the letter are Reps. Hank Johnson (D-GA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Rick Boucher (D-VA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of the House.  

An Arbitron spokesperson told RBR/TVBR that the company did not wish to comment at this time.

RBR/TVBR observation: We’re all for this. Unlike the FCC and the various state attorneys general, the United States Congress certainly has jurisdiction to investigate PPM – and the GAO is its expert arm to do so. Our only caution would be that if this leads to any new legislation, it will have to be carefully crafted to comply with the First Amendment.