Now it’s up to the FCC to decide


Reply comments are in for the FCC’s docket proceeding on whether it should launch an investigation of PPM. Very few of the filings, however, addressed the key issue – whether the FCC has any authority to conduct such an investigation.

The PPM Coalition, which sought the investigation, says it is not asking the FCC to regulate Arbitron, but insists that the Commission certainly has authority to inform itself about facts affecting the radio industry. Arbitron counters that it would be a “serious mistake” for the FCC to jump into the fray and divert the company’s attention from securing MRC accreditation for PPM.  

“Arbitron’s insistence that the Commission lacks authority under the Communications Act of 1934, as amended over the activities of audience measurement firms misses the mark. The PPMC only asks that the Commission inform itself of the potential impact of unreliable ratings data being released into the marketplace where it will be used by the Commission and broadcast licensees to frame local markets whose competitiveness is the central premise of broadcast regulation. To imply that the Commission lacks the authority to inform itself of facts affecting the radio broadcast industry is absurd,” said the PPM Coalition. It is comprised of 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.

While the PPM Coalition concedes that the Commission has no regulatory authority over ratings companies, it states that if the FCC investigation finds that PPM is indeed flawed and likely discriminates against minority consumers, the Commission could then recommend congressional action to regulate Arbitron.

“Although Arbitron has steadfastly maintained that it is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission, and its Comments provide ample authority in support of that position, Arbitron has equally steadfastly demonstrated its willingness to work with all stakeholders – including advertisers, stations, the MRC, and even the Commission – to help bring the measurement of radio audiences into alignment with the measurement of audiences for competing media,” Arbitron said in its latest filing.

The ratings company said it is in the midst of educational outreach, “especially to stations that are owned by or that target persons of color,” so that everyone involved can work together to “resolve the concerns over the temporary disruption in established patterns that the introduction of a new technology such as PPM inevitably causes.”

“It would be a serious mistake for the Commission to insert itself into that process by convening a Section 403 proceeding, which as Arbitron noted in its Comments, will unavoidably have the effect of (i) diverting the time, attention, and resources of Arbitron and its senior management from continuing the dialogue with the stakeholders and from continuing to pursue MRC accreditation for Radio First, and instead devoting themselves to producing documents and giving testimony, and (ii) “freezing” Radio First in its present state, for fear that further innovations and refinements will be cited by PPM’s opponents as tacit concessions that the service prior to any such innovations and refinements was somehow deficient,” said Arbitron as it urged the FCC to deny the petition for an investigation.

As previously reported, a joint filing by nine radio companies had also urged the FCC to stay out of PPM.

RBR/TVBR observation: The FCC has no in-house expertise in evaluating media ratings methodologies. The FCC has no power to make Arbitron change anything even after completing such a probe. Even if you accept the position that the Commission somehow has the authority to conduct such an investigation – which is quite a legal stretch – what’s the point?