MRC-DOJ announcement raises questions; Ivie responds


Kathy Crawford, MindShare President/Local Broadcast, is concerned over the recent announcement from DOJ that it will not challenge a proposal by the Media Ratings Council (MRC) relating to the auditing and accrediting of ratings products (5/13/08 RBR #94).

MRC wants rating services seeking to replace one of their currency audience measurement products (AMPs) to obtain accreditation of the new product, and at a minimum submit impact data and undergo an independent audit, prior to commercialization.

Crawford is concerned that this, of course, means PPM: “The government will not stop the MRC from asking for accreditation prior to the release of a new method of ratings that is to become a currency. That applies to PPM, and there is a major MRC meeting on PPM the 21st of this month. If it doesn’t get accredited, what is Arbitron going to do?”

She tells RBR/TVBR that MindShare is going to strongly recommend to Bouvard that they not go to currency unless they get accreditation. “Because we don’t really want to use non-accredited data,” she explains.

Bouvard explained that according to the MRC Voluntary Code of Conduct, he’s not really in the position to comment directly on how the MRC does its job. However, he also directed us to look at that same code of conduct, which states the process is 1) Audit; 2) Commercialize; and 3) Accredit. And the DOJ-MRC understanding does not change that. It is in tact and remains.

Specifically, Arbitron sent us this from the MRC: "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.  At a minimum, disclosure of impact data as required by MRC Minimum Standards, completion of an MRC audit and MRC committee review prior to commercialization of a replacement currency product is required by the Code. In these circumstances, strong consideration should be given to discontinuing the existing accredited currency product only when the replacement currency product has successfully achieved accreditation.  This provision, however, does not limit the Participating Measurement Service from implementing and marketing the new currency product when it desires.”

Crawford responded by saying, yes, the industry still uses currencies without accreditation, and that she understands the money Arbitron has invested in PPM, but “at the same time, if we’re putting a product out on the street that is not necessarily a good product, shouldn’t we call into question its use? The problem is I can’t use anything else because they’re not going to produce it. So we are stuck using a product that is not accredited, if you will.”

Said MRC chief George Ivie: "The decision as to when to commercialize is Arbitron’s.  The MRC has no legal authority nor was it invested with any governmental authority to limit actions of a commercial enterprise. As you know, the MRC has stated its preference and the minimum requirments for code compliance.  We believe the voluntary Accreditation process provides valuable assurance to the marketplace related to compliance with MRC Standards."

Arbitron also sent us this statement on the matter: "We are adhering to the guidelines set forth in the MRC Voluntary Code of Conduct as we commercialize our PPM markets. The Code specifies that, at minimum, prior to commercializing a new ratings service in a market, we should 1) complete an independent audit of the service related to that market; 2) have those audit findings submitted to the MRC audit subcommittee; and 3) provide a pre-currency or demonstration period during which customers will have an advance look at the PPM data. Accordingly, we have scheduled audits and an accreditation review process for all PPM markets that we intend to commercialize in 2008.

Sample Performance Indicator (SPI) is among the top priorities for us and the MRC, just as response rates continue to be a priority in the Diary service. A very large portion of our research program and ongoing investments in panel recruitment, panel management, respondent incentives and other PPM treatments is aimed at improving SPI results.

We have been asked by some customers to delay the PPM restart until accreditation is achieved. That is something that the MRC prefers when a ratings service is replacing an existing accredited service with a new service. However, the MRC clearly indicates that it does not require this step, and in fact it would force radio to follow a process that no other media have been required to follow. To do so, in our judgment, could put radio at a competitive disadvantage by delaying for years the conversion to electronic measurement, and it could severely dampen the prospects for further innovation in radio audience measurement.

Having said that, we continue to believe in the value of MRC accreditation, as we have proven over many years in getting virtually all of our data and software services accredited. To move forward on the basis set forth above is in no way an indication that we have changed our long-held view of the value of accreditation."

RBR/TVBR observation: As with television—it’s good that this doesn’t change anything, because from what we hear, Nielsen’s C3 Ratings for television are currently in their second year of not being MRC-accredited. The market does not wait for accreditation, so this DOJ-MRC understanding doesn’t change that. It appears that the understanding applies more to new entrants into the ratings game aiming to replace one of the current currency audience measurement products.