FCC's Adelstein Seeks PPM Probe
November 19, 2008 at 8:01 AM (PT)
One of the two Democrats on the FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION is calling on the agency to investigate whether the new electronic measurement system used by ARBITRON is unfairly harming minority broadcasters. FCC Commissioner JONATHAN ADELSTEIN on TUESDAY sent a letter to FCC Chairman KEVIN MARTIN urging the agency to open a formal investigation into ARBITRON's PORTABLE PEOPLE METER.
ARBITRON argues that the PPM is more accurate and reliable than the paper diaries it has historically used to track radio listenership. ARBITRON launched the system in PHILADELPHIA in APRIL 2007 and has since rolled it out in NEW YORK, LOS ANGELES, CHICAGO, HOUSTON and SAN FRANCISCO. But so far, the service has been accredited by the MEDIA RATINGS COUNCIL for use only in HOUSTON.
It has set off alarm bells among minority-owned radio stations and their supporters, who approached the FCC in SEPTEMBER about launching a formal investigation. They argue that system has resulted in far lower ratings for many minority broadcasters and pushed down the advertising rates they rely on to stay on the air.
NABOB Exec. Dir./General Council JAMES L. WINSTON said the fundamental problem is that ARBITRON has scaled back the number of listeners it tracks as it has begun using Portable People Meters, resulting in unrepresentative samples that do not adequately reflect audience sizes for many minority-owned stations. "It's very easy to get big distortions when you use such small samples," WINSTON explained.
This, ADELSTEIN said, poses a major threat to the tiny number of minority-owned stations operating in the U.S. and the diversity they bring to AMERICAN airwaves.
According to FREE PRESS, a public interest group, racial and ethnic minorities currently own only 7.7% of full-power radio stations nationwide. The PORTABLE PEOPLE METER, ADELSTEIN said, "constitutes a clear and present danger to media diversity."
In a statement TUESDAY, ARBITRON said the FCC lacks authority to regulate audience ratings, adding that "the reliability and methodologies of audience ratings services are best left to private industry groups such as the MEDIA RATING COUNCIL."
ARBITRON is already locked in legal battles over the PPM system with the states of NEW JERSEY and NEW YORK, which are seeking court orders to stop the rollout of the service.
Arbitron Remains Insistant The FCC Doesn't Have Jurisdiction
In a statement regarding the probe, ARBITRON wrote, "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. In SEPTEMBER, we filed filed comments with the FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMISSION opposing a petition to the FCC that asks for an investigation into the ARBITRON PORTABLE PEOPLE METER radio ratings service. ARBITRON cited extensive precedent in which both Congress and the Commission have previously recognized that the FCC lacks authority to regulate audience ratings. Both Congress and the Commission have expressly stated that the reliability and methodologies of audience ratings services are best left to private industry groups such as the MEDIA RATING COUNCIL, INC., or MRC."