NEWS3 December 2009

Arbitron boss defends PPM technology at House hearing

Government Legal North America

US— Arbitron chief executive Michael Skarzynski defended his firm’s portable people meter (PPM) technology at the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government reform yesterday.

The committee is looking into complaints that the PPM system underrepresents minority audiences, harming the revenues of stations that target these groups. But Skarzynski said that his firm’s audience measurement technology should not be blamed for falling listener numbers, citing the economic situation as the main reason.

The Arbitron chief said his company “share[s] the concern regarding the health of this important voice of the broadcasting community”.

“While PPM represents a significant advance,” he said, “it cannot do everything. It cannot solve the severe economic challenges that the radio industry has confronted for the last two years. We have all felt the impact of a recession that has caused a drastic – and in some cases, devastating decline in radio advertising, with resulting significant declines in radio revenue. Further, PPM cannot address the high debt burdens faced by many radio broadcasters, including minority broadcasters.”

Committee chairman Ed Towns had opened the meeting claiming that PPM technology was responsible for “driving away advertisers” and accused Arbitron of being a monopoly.

He said he had “no quarrel” with an accurate radio ratings system, but that there was “a serious question” over the accuracy of the PPM technology. Arbitron has argued that PPM is more accurate than the diary system that preceded it, because it measures actual exposure rather than just recall and loyalty.

Towns said that the government had taken a hands-off approach to radio ratings, but asked the hearing: “Can we afford to let radio ratings depend on good behaviour by a monopolistic company?”

The Media Rating Council’s Mike Ivie told the committee that Arbitron had made improvements, including expanded cell-only sampling, to the system, and that it had acted on suggestions and criticism from minority broadcasters. But he added that the PPM technology should not have been rolled out until it had secured MRC accreditation.

Skarzynski responded saying the firm had followed the rules and that such decisions were the norm in other ratings mediums. The PPM system has so far secured MRC accreditation in only two of the 33 markets where it operates: Houston and Riverside-San Bernardino.

Click here to watch video footage of Michael Skarzynski being quizzed by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton.