What’s going on in Houston?


Houston is the only PPM market to thus far win Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation, but there are now reports circulating that that lone seal of approval could be withdrawn. Arbitron isn’t commenting and the MRC is a super-secretive as ever.

In his congressional testimony this week, NABOB Executive Director Jim Winston spoke of Arbitron’s Portable People Meter being up for “reaccreditation” in Houston because the company wants to switch to the same recruiting methodology used in Philadelphia and New York – and which Arbitron intends to use elsewhere. We hear that it is worse than that – that Arbitron failed a routine re-audit of PPM in Houston. The Houston PPM data reportedly failed to maintain minimum MRC standards even using the more expensive recruiting methodology dating back to Arbitron’s efforts to enlist Nielsen in a joint venture to use PPM for both radio and television. Arbitron is said to be appealing that loss of accreditation and can continue to put the MRC double-check logo on its Houston PPM reports pending the outcome of that appeal.

Like all proceedings of the MRC, the appeal process is totally secret – so secret that Arbitron won’t confirm or deny that there is an appeal going on, or that there is anything to be appealed. Arbitron Sr. VP Thom Mocarsky told RBR that the company would abide by its contract with the MRC requiring confidentiality and not comment on anything to do with the MRC. But Mocarsky said the company had no problem with Winston’s call for a congressional investigation of PPM and the MRC accreditation process. “We’re all for transparency,” he said, adding that Arbitron is happy to talk to anyone about the advantages of PPM and show that it uses representative and inclusive samples for all demographics and ethnic groups.

RBR also asked the MRC to answer a couple of questions, but don’t hold your breath – the last time MRC issued a public statement on anything was June 18, 2004.  

RBR observation: At its meeting this week, the Arbitron Radio Advisory Council supported Arbitron continuing to roll out PPM to more markets without waiting for MRC accreditation, but we hear that the vote was not unanimous. Some radio groups are absolutely outraged that Arbitron is not able to meet the accreditation standards, but is continuing to move ahead with PPM. But we also understand that the PPM contracts which the groups have signed with Arbitron don’t mention MRC accreditations, so there is no easy out if MRC doesn’t give its seal of approval.