Arbitron PPM battle is over sample, not technology


Minority broadcasters see questions about Arbitron’s PPM system to be of existential importance. In the first half of a hearing on PPM, the technology was not called into question so much as the survey sample, particularly when it comes to recruiting and retaining young members of minority groups. Also, the MRC’s George Ivie detailed just what Arbitron needs to do to get the service accredited.

Arbitron’s Michael Skarzynski was the center of attention of a panel seated by Edolphus Towns’ (D-NY) House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Other panelists included Media Rating Council’s Ivie, Univision’s Ceril Shagrin and MMTC’s David Honig.

The tone of the hearing was set right off the bat by Towns, who called Arbitron a “monopolistic company” that was essentially unregulated. “When the cat’s away the mice will play. In this case the cat hasn’t been seen for years,” he observed.

Skarzynski said that Arbitron had faith in its technology and methodology, and insisted it was listening to and implementing many of the suggestions it has been getting from clients and MRC alike. He agreed that radio was facing severe challenges, but suggested that the recession and the high debt service carried by many radio companies were to blame more than the coincidental implementation of PPM.

Honig countered that many minority broadcasters were coping with and succeeding despite many challenges for years, only to suddenly go over a cliff when PPM came on line and sent many ratings performances downward. “That’s about as clear a case of causation that you can see,” he said.

Skarzynski contended that other non-ethnic formats – he mentioned religion and talk specifically – also seemed to suffer ratings declines and suggested that it was simply part of the switch from the recall-based diary method and the real listening measured by PPM.

Shagrin noted that recruitment of panelists to be part of the sample was the main problem, and until that is fixed there will be no improvement in the ratings results. She testified that historically members of ethnic minorities are difficult to recruit for such purposes, and the difficulty is exponentially increased when searching for young ethnics. She further argued that even when Arbitron gets the percentage of minorities it wants, the ones it gets are often not at all representative of the minority population in general.

Ranking Member Darrell Issa (R-CA) was the lone Republican actively participating in the hearing. He asked all witnesses if the PPM technology was in dispute, and determined that in general it was not, although Honig did mention that the device occasionally will pick up a passive station presence, as when a PPM-holder is near a radio station being played by a business establishment or one belonging to somebody else.