Arbitron's Portable People Meters May Be Under Investigation

Are reports that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee plans to investigate in light of ongoing allegations of underreporting minority viewing

Arbitron's Portable People Meters have become the center of a lot of attention in legislative and regulatory circles lately. There are reports that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee plans to investigate the meters in light of ongoing allegations that they underreport minority viewing.

The FCC last month launched its own investigation, citing broadcaster requests and its own diversity committee.

While it is primarily about radio listening, the issue is important to TV stations as well.

The FCC uses Arbitron markets in its multiple ownership rules, which determine in which markets TV, radio and newspapers can be co-owned. "Should the Commission modify its own reliance on Arbitron market data in applying its multiple ownership rules if it determines that PPM data are unreliable?" the commission asks in the order.

On Tuesday (June 30) the Miami-Dade County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to "ensure that the ratings methodology used by the Portable People Meter ratings system designed to measure radio station listenership does not under-represent minority radio listeners."

Arbitron, responding to reports that the oversight committee requested documents from the FCC about the PPM's impact on listenership, said it was happy to talk about its methodology and ratings in general, saying it has been refining and improving the product in a dialog with Congress, the FCC, industry and other stakeholders.

“Arbitron welcomes any opportunity to discuss the importance of electronic measurement, the effectiveness of the PPM technology, the value of the data it produces and our disciplined approach to the deployment of the service across the United States,” said Arbitron President Michael Skarzynski. “Arbitron looks forward to sharing with the Committee our expertise and insights based on our long history and extensive experience in gathering, distributing and supporting the currency that is used throughout the radio industry by broadcasters, advertisers, and agencies.”

Critics of the meters allege they underreport minority radio listening and could harm diversity and competition. The FCC's Diversity Committee argued that "Arbitron's use of an audience measurement service that may not accurately measure minority audiences could lead to 'irreparable' financial harm to stations serving such audiences and, thus, lead to the loss of service that such stations provide to the public," the FCC said in laying out its reasoning for the inquiry.

The FCC inquiry came despite the fact that, as the FCC points out, Arbitron "reached settlements regarding its PPM methodologies in New York, New Jersey and Maryland, has adopted improvements to the methodology, and has committed to continuing to improve its PPM methodology."

"Arbitron is dissapointed to have been left out of the county commissioners' information and educational process," said the company in response to the resolution. "We are sorry we were not afforded an opportunity to use fact-based arguments to address assertions made in the resolution," said Arbitron in a statement.