PPM attacked and defended at FCC


Radio One and Lincoln Financial Media are the latest broadcasters to file comments at the FCC supporting Arbitron’s Portable People Meter. Arbitron itself reiterated that the FCC has no authority to regulate PPM. But the PPM Coalition says that doesn’t matter – the Commission can still investigate PPM.

“It is our believe that, while not perfect and still needing improvements in both minority and non-minority measurement areas (efforts for which are currently underway), the PPM-based system represents an important step forward in audience measurement from the previous methodology and plays a significant role in addressing the demands from clients who support our businesses,” wrote Lincoln Financial Media President and CEO Don Benson.

“We recognize that the PPM service is not perfect, but the radio industry cannoth afford to wait for the perfect service,” wrote Radio One Chief Administrative Office Linda Vilardo and General Counsel Michael Plantamura, who noted that their company is both the largest African-American owned radio company in the US and the largest radio company that primarily targets African-American and Urban listeners. They told the Commission that Radio One’s experience “proves the point” that minute-by-minute ratings data can let a broadcaster modify programming to reflect the reality of how radio is consumer. The filing noted that Radio One programmers have made changes based on PPM data “that resulted in our stations regaining some, if not all, lost audience share.”

But the key question is still whether the FCC has any authority over radio ratings. Arbitron noted in its reply comments that most of the comments filed in round one did not take issue with the company’s own statements that the FCC lacks jurisdiction over Arbitron. “The commenters who suggest that the Commission can order Arbitron to make changes in the PPM service fail to present any basis for the Commission’s authority to do so,” the latest filing stated.

Based on the same filings, the PPM Coalition (PPMC) – the anti-PPM group of broadcasters and related businesses seeking the FCC probe – argued that Arbitron had actually agreed that the Commission has “ample jurisdiction” for a PPM probe.

“In its comments Arbitron concedes what the PPMC has argued all along – that the Commission has jurisdiction to launch a formal investigation to gather the necessary information to determine for itself the reliability of the PPM data. The only jurisdictional question that Arbitron raises is whether the Commission has authority to regulate the PPM service. The PPMC, however, has not asked the Commission to regulate Arbitron’s PPM service. Throughout this proceeding, including in its initial Emergency Petition for Section 403 Inquiry and in its most recent comments filed in response to the NOI, the PPMC has sought for the Commission to investigate the reliability of the PPM service and its impact on minority broadcasters; stop using all unaccredited Arbitron data; and require Arbitron to attain MRC accreditation before licensees are permitted to rely on PPM data in filings with the Commission. Arbitron does not question the Commission’s authority to undertake these actions. Indeed, in its comments Arbitron makes it abundantly clear that the Commission’s use of Arbitron data is a “voluntary” act and that it is wholly within the Commission’s authority to decide whether to continue to use such data. The PPMC agrees with Arbitron’s position. Accordingly, the PPMC respectfully requests that the Commission immediately launch a formal Section 403 investigation to undertake a thorough review of the PPM methodology and the devastating impact it is having on minority broadcasting,” read the reply comments from the PPMC.

Only two other commenters addressed the jurisdictional issue. ICBC Holdings repeated its claim that the FCC has regulatory authority over PPM because of the encoding that stations must transmit, but again failed to provide any engineering basis for taking action on an engineering issue. And the Media Access Project again insisted that the FCC has broad regulatory authority over just about anything it decides deals with broadcasting.

RBR/TVBR observation: If the FCC cannot regulate PPM, why should the Commission waste its resources investigating PPM? The GAO is now involved, investigating PPM at the behest of the United States Congress, which does have authority to regulate radio ratings (within the confines of the First Amendment), so the FCC should step back and tend to many other pressing matters which are within its jurisdiction.