Arbitron Misses Ethnic Benchmarks

As hard as Arbitron says it is working to restore credibility to its struggling electronic ratings system, the ratings firm continues to find itself in misstep after misstep.

In the latest portable people meter survey for the month of April, Arbitron missed several ethnic benchmarks in several markets. That’s not a good sign for a company under Federal Communications Commission scrutiny and under attack by minority groups who claim the PPM undercounts minorities. Arbitron’s public relations nightmare could worsen if the company doesn’t do a better job of meeting benchmarks in May, which is traditionally radio’s biggest revenue month.

In Los Angeles the DDI (designated delivery index) for Blacks 18-34 was 64 in April. In Detroit, where 21.8 percent of the 12-plus population is Black, it was only 59. In New York, Arbitron only slightly exceeded the benchmark (76) as it did in Chicago (74) and Dallas (71). The average DDI for Blacks 18-34 among all markets in April was 83.

The DDI performance measure, which is based on 13-month average, is defined as sample size for a given demo divided by the target sample size for the demo.

Among Hispanics 18-34, April’s DDI was 57 in Nassau-Suffolk and averaged 103 in all PPM markets. Arbitron has the same benchmarks for this demo as it does for Blacks 18-34.

Ethnic demo targets weren’t the only benchmarks where Arbitron missed the mark in April.  In the “Other 18-34” demo, San Francisco scored a DDI of 68. San Jose (74), Los Angeles (76) and Chicago (79) each registered DDI’s significantly lower than the monthly average of 89.

Arbitron said that in the months ahead it “currently anticipates that the DDI for persons 18-34 will be close to 85.” The company is counting on its plan to increase cell-phone-only sampling to 10 percent of the sample by July and 15 percent by December 2009. The company accelerated those targets from a previously communicated 12.5 percent by year end 2009.

The poor sample performance among minorities comes on top of a data entry error that caused Arbitron to delay by one week the PPM results in New York for April and the first week of May. But that was only part of the story, as the company then told customers earlier this week that the error—where one of the manually entered population numbers was transposed—also occurred during preparation for the October 2008 report processing and appears to have affected New York audience estimates for the Holiday 2008-March 2009 report periods enough to warrant their re-issue on June 8.