Minority broadcasters still dissatisfied with PPM


Arbitron’s latest moves to extend to all markets many of the enhancements to its Portable People Meter (PPM) radio ratings system required in its settlements with the Attorneys General of New York, New Jersey and Maryland still have not satisfied the Spanish Radio Association (SRA) and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB). They say what Arbitron has done is only “a good first step,” but not nearly enough.

SRA and NABOB said in a joint statement that they have made clear in recent meetings with Arbitron that the actions mandated by the state settlements are necessary but not sufficient if Arbitron is truly committed to transforming PPM into a reliable audience measurement service.  According to Frank Flores, General Manager of SBS New York, “we’ve been working in earnest with Arbitron to communicate what we view as the most critical shortcomings of its PPM sampling methodology. Therefore we found it odd and quite disconcerting that neither SRA nor NABOB was consulted prior to this latest move from Arbitron. Arbitron’s implication that we are satisfied with its latest promises is disingenuous and simply not true.  It reflects what we have long feared: Arbitron will exploit its unregulated monopoly position to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, regardless of the harm it inflicts on its customers.” 

The new criticism came after Arbitron’s new CEO, Michael Skarzynski, assured US Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in a letter last week that the company was committed to improving the PPM methodology and providing greater transparency. Menendez, at the urging of SRA and NABOB, had raised questions about the accuracy of the PPM methodology in counting Hispanics and other minorities. Skarzynski noted that some stations targeting minority audiences have improved their ratings position under PPM, as compared to diary service. The letter noted that the new CEO had met with SRA and NABOB to discuss their concerns, but he clearly has not yet won them over.

Specifically, the two groups say Arbitron’s PPM enhancements fall short in four key areas:

Cell Phone Only Sampling
Arbitron announced that it will increase cell-phone only sampling in all PPM markets to 15 percent by the end of 2010.

SRA/NABOB Response:  “Cell phone only (CPO) users are disproportionately young and minority, and Arbitron’s failure to sample them properly has resulted in an undercounting of these important demographic groups.  While we acknowledge that Arbitron’s CPO target is in line with its agreements with the NY, NJ and MD settlements, both the SRA and NABOB have recently cautioned Arbitron that its proposed timeline lags behind the realities of the market.  Even if Arbitron meets the new target, CPO users will continue to be underrepresented. 

Presently, eighteen percent of American households have abandoned landline telephones, and the latest research predicts that percentage will rise dramatically by the end of 2010.  Moreover, CPO use is significantly higher than 18 percent among adults 18-29 (over 30%) and within minority populations. Arbitron’s stated goal of 15% CPO sampling by the end of 2010 does not even reflect the current market profile, and it will become even less representative over the next two years. 

Arbitron claims to the general public that its PPM estimates are based on a representative sample of radio users.  SRA and NABOB continue to ask Arbitron to sample CPO users commensurate with their share of the marketplace.” 

Address Based Sampling
Arbitron said it is committing to the use of address-based sampling techniques for at least 15 percent of its sampling efforts by the end of 2010.

SRA/NABOB Response:  “Arbitron only intends to use address based sampling to reach cell phone only homes.  All landline homes will continue to be approached utilizing a telephone sample frame based on random digit dialing and telephone recruitment.  We have repeatedly explained to Arbitron that telephone-based sampling results in skewed sampling of minority radio audiences.  As reflected in current panels, some segments of minority communities are disproportionately likely to decline to participate in the PPM sample when contacted by telephone.  Address-based in-person recruiting would allow Arbitron to better sample these undercounted communities.” 

In-tab Compliance Rates
Arbitron said it is applying its average-daily in-tab benchmark of 75 percent of installed sample to all PPM markets and is currently implementing methods to minimize differential compliance.

SRA/NABOB Response:  “Arbitron’s promise in this area has two key deficiencies.  First, an average daily in-tab benchmark of 75% for the overall sample population is insufficient.  It represents only the minimum legally required under the Maryland settlement.  Second, it does not address the key issues for SRA and NABOB which is the differential compliance rates among young and ethnic PPM panelists. Arbitron’s announced commitment would not comply with the New York settlement, which required a 75 percent compliance rate for all demographic groups within the sample (ages 6+, 18-34; 35-54, etc.).  Arbitron must take steps to bring the compliance rates among young and ethnic PPM panelists in line with those of its sample overall, and it must increase the compliance rate of the overall sample as well.” 

Response Rates (SPI) 
Arbitron has committed to improving its Sample Performance Indicator in all PPM markets and has told the Media Rating Council that it hopes to achieve a 21 percent SPI average across all PPM markets by the end of 2010.

SRA/NABOB Response:  “Arbitron makes no specific commitments by market with regard to SPI.  This is insufficient.  SPI is one of the most important indicators of the sample’s representativeness to a given population.”