Washington Report

Updates from Capitol Hill

Arbitron People Meter Problems Continue

microphone2Radio industry representatives reached an impasse over whether Arbitron Inc.’s Portable People Meter (PPM) technology accurately measures audiences or if it adversely impacts minority-owned radio stations.  So, at a House Oversight and Government reform committee hearing on the matter, Chairman Edolphous Towns offered a choice: Find a way to work it out or he will.

“I want to see a plan of action and a realistic timetable developed over the next 30 days to correct this unsustainable situation,” Towns said. “After that point, I will look to see if sufficient progress has been made or whether the Congress will need to step in.”

The Media Ratings Council (MRC), which oversees audience measurement services for member clients like Arbitron, found “persistent problems” with the device earlier this year. MRC’s executive director George Ivie testified at the hearing that the council has ongoing concerns, such as the effect of noncompliance when PPM panelists don’t wear their meters every day. He said the noncompliance rate is highest among young people and minorities.

But Arbitron president Michael Skarzynski defended the technology, blaming the decrease minority stations are experiencing on the recession. Alfred Liggins, president of Radio One, Inc., agreed, saying the device has exposed “some poor choices made during the good times before this recession hit,” when broadcasters overleveraged and/or expanded in already established urban markets.

David Honig, who heads the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, argued that Arbitron under-samples minority audience members in its PPM panels. He also charged that the meter fails to distinguish between passive radio exposure to stations overheard at the doctor’s office, for example, and deliberate choices. At a minimum, he testified, minority radio stations should be able to seek “a more responsible audience measurement service that cares about its mission.”

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