N.Y.C. Council Hears PPM Testimony

The New York City Council on Wednesday morning (Sept. 10) heard testimony from both sides on a resolution calling on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate Arbitron’s portable people meter system and its potential impact on the diversity of radio. The minority broadcasters seeking government intervention fear lower ratings and revenue with the PPM service, claiming that Arbitron’s methodology undercounts African-Americans and Hispanics.

Testifying on Arbitron’s behalf was president and CEO Steve Morris, who made numerous points defending PPM, including:

– The participants in the Arbitron Portable People Meter (PPM) radio ratings services are as representative of the diversity of New York and other top markets as diary respondents are today.

– The fundamental techniques used to recruit PPM respondents in New York and other markets are the same as Arbitron uses for the diary.

– The difference between PPM ratings and diary ratings is a function of the survey tool, not the sample. PPM collects actual exposure; the diary, recall-based “habitual” behavior.

– The paper and pencil diary allows loyal listeners, of any and all formats, to overstate their habitual listening.

– Broadcasters of all formats, including urban and Hispanic, who have embraced PPM, have improved their audiences and their standing in the marketplace.

– Arbitron will continue to adhere to the Media Rating Council Voluntary Code of Conduct and will continuously strive to improve the PPM radio ratings service.

– Arbitron remains committed to working constructively with the Council and with clients in the radio industry to address specific diary-to-PPM transition issues.

– Arbitron does not believe that the FCC has jurisdiction over the Company or its operations and assets and consequently lacks the authority to commence a Section 403 investigation.

– Arbitron has great respect and appreciation for the work of the City Council and for the critical and unique role that Black and Hispanic-targeted radio provides as a voice for the diverse communities of New York City.

Regarding Arbitron’s belief that the FCC has no jurisdiction over the company when it comes to PPM or any of its operations, Peter Tannenwald, an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth in Washington, D.C., explained that the FCC possesses the authority to investigate if it receives enough compelling complaints from broadcasters. While it may not have the power to impose restrictions on Arbitron, the commission could set restrictions on the contracts stations sign with the ratings provider.

A group of minority broadcasters, collectively known as the PPM Coalition, have petitioned the FCC to open an investigation into PPM.

On Tuesday, the New York State Attorney General’s office subpoenaed Arbitron for PPM documents dating back to 2003, as AG Andrew Cuomo begins to look into Arbitron’s electronic ratings technology on behalf of Hispanic broadcasters and Inner City Broadcasting in New York City.

— Additional reporting by Jeffrey Yorke and Katy Bachman, Mediaweek