broadcasters seek independent review of PPM ratings
By Erik Sass
MediaPost.com (November 12, 2007) Radio broadcasters targeting African-American and
Hispanic audiences are demanding an independent review of radio ratings
provided by Arbitron's Portable People Meter, a passive electronic
measurement device. Led by the National Association of Black Owned
Broadcasters, these urban and Hispanic format radio station owners say
Arbitron's data is flawed because it's not meeting sample target sizes.
Standing by its method, Arbitron says it welcomes such a review.
Arbitron CEO Steve Morris said in a press conference Friday that NABOB
members are asking Arbitron to "accept independent review of what it is
that we're doing by some independent panel." He concluded: "The headline
here is that we are welcoming an independent review of our methodology."
The minority broadcasters were galvanized by the release of October PPM
results for New York City, where PPM data is set to replace Arbitron's
older diary system in January. In these October "pre-currency" ratings,
urban and Hispanic formats plunged in an alarming fashion. Among the
stations taking the biggest hits were WRKS/98.7 FM, WBLS/107.5 FM, WQHT/97.1
FM, WCAA/105.9 FM, WADO/1280 AM, and WPAT/93.1 FM.
Addressing these findings, Morris said that "we fundamentally disagree
about whether New York needs to be fixed or not; we feel that, in fact,
the data looks extremely good and is entirely valid for use in buying and
selling. They simply don't agree with that point. So I think this idea of
the independent panel makes a lot of sense."
These apparently dramatic shifts in listening patterns closely resemble
similar changes seen in Philadelphia and Houston when PPM replaced paper
diaries in those two markets, with urban and Hispanic formats plummeting
for no discernible reason.
In fact, Jim Winston, NABOB's executive director, said "the New York City
results were even worse for urban and Hispanic radio than the Philadelphia
and Houston numbers. The New York PPM numbers showed a substantial loss of
audience for all stations, but the loss for the urban- and
Hispanic-formatted stations was far worse than for the market as a whole."
The problem, according to a number of radio executives, is Arbitron's
failure to meet its target sample sizes in all three markets. Although the
problems affect a variety of demographic segments, including 18-
to-24-year-olds and women, they are especially pronounced among
African-Americans. Winston remarked: "the samples in both Philadelphia and
Houston for this demo have been consistently and substantially below the
proportion of the population represented by this demo, and substantially
below the sample size Arbitron set for itself to reach."
This failure is partly attributed to sample recruits who don't carry the
PPM device as they go about their daily routines. In August, Arbitron said
it was culling the samples of these non-participants and replacing them
with more reliable recruits, as well as increasing the financial
incentives to participate. The company promised to have the Houston and
Philadelphia samples fixed by early October, but radio executives say it
failed to meet this deadline.
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