The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

18 May 2009

Obamists Fight Electronic Radio Ratings System

IT BEGINS

Obamist FCC Announces Crackdown On 'Racist' Radio Ratings







In what appears to be the first stage of a broader, Chavez-style crackdown against talk radio and its audience success, Obama's FCC has taken an official step toward eliminating (or, at best, manipulating) an electronic ratings system his supporters consider "racist".

Using a pager-like device, Arbitron's Portable People Meter (PPM) provides the first truly accurate system for measuring radio listening. Because it is passive, rather than requiring a diary to be manually maintained, opportunities for cheating have virtually been eliminated.

That means stations with small but particularly loyal followings, such as hip-hop outlets, no longer wrongly benefit from distorted record-keeping meant to reward certain FM personalities. In many cases, other formats (especially conservative talk radio) are now experiencing a more accurate reflection of their listenership, leading to improved results.

In addition, the Reverend Al Sharpton's liberal talk show has apparently been hurt by PPM's implementation.


While on the campaign trail, Obama officially condemned the electronic system, registering his opposition in the weeks before the election. Since taking power, he's made good on his promise to fight PPM's implementation, as his FCC orders an inquiry into the matter.


From All Access, an industry trade publication, earlier today:



Broadcasters, media organizations, and others have raised concerns about the use of the PPM and its potential impact on audience ratings of stations that air programming targeted to minority audiences, and consequently, on the financial viability of those stations.

"They claim that the current PPM methodology undercounts and misrepresents the number and loyalty of minority radio listeners.

"They assert that, because audience ratings affect advertising revenues, undercounting minority audiences could negatively affect the ability of these stations to compete for advertising revenues and to continue to offer local service to minority audiences.

"They express concern that such undercounting could particularly affect the ratings of local, urban-formatted radio stations that broadcast programming of interest to African-American and Hispanic audiences.


From the FCC's official Notice of Inquiry:



In this Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”), we seek comment on issues relating to the commercial use of a radio audience measurement device, developed by Arbitron, Inc. (“Arbitron”), known as the portable people meter, or “PPM.”#

Broadcasters, media organizations, and others have raised concerns about the use of the PPM and its potential impact on audience ratings of stations that air programming targeted to minority audiences, and consequently, on the financial viability of those stations.

They claim that the current PPM methodology undercounts and misrepresents the number and loyalty of minority radio listeners.# They assert that, because audience ratings affect advertising revenues, undercounting minority audiences could negatively affect the ability of these stations to compete for advertising revenues and to continue to offer local service to minority audiences.

They express concern that such undercounting could particularly affect the ratings of local, urban-formatted radio stations that broadcast programming of interest to African-American and Hispanic audiences.# This NOI investigates the impact of PPM methodology on the broadcast industry as well as whether the audience ratings data is sufficiently accurate and reliable to merit the Commission’s own reliance on it in its rules, policies and procedures.

According to its proponents, the PPM methodology represents a technological improvement in measuring radio listening. We have a strong interest in encouraging innovative advancements that lead to improved information and data. We seek information on whether and how the PPM technological changes adversely affect diversity on the airwaves as well as the integrity and reliability of the Commission’s processes that rely on Arbitron ratings data. If there is an adverse impact, we seek comment on further steps the Commission can and should take to address these issues.

Requests that the Commission institute an inquiry have been made in several contexts. The FCC’s Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age (“Diversity Committee”) has passed a resolution requesting a Commission investigation of Arbitron’s PPM measurement system to determine whether the system is having or will have a detrimental and discriminatory effect upon stations targeting minority audiences.# Noting that Arbitron is the only company that currently provides quantitative audience data for radio stations, the Committee states that the financial success of a radio broadcast station often depends upon demonstrating to potential advertisers that the station has a substantial audience of desirable consumers.# According to the Diversity Committee, 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.#

In addition, the PPM Coalition (“PPMC”) has filed an Emergency Petition for a Section 403 Inquiry (“PPMC Petition”), requesting that the Commission immediately commence a fact-finding inquiry into the current PPM methodology.# PPMC and others that supported PPMC’s request for a Commission investigation express concern that the PPM methodology has had a detrimental effect on the ratings measurements for urban- and Hispanic-formatted stations and state that this is due to the under-representation of minorities in the sample panels and a failure to distribute PPM devices within minority groups.

PPMC alleges that the PPM sample is deficient because only five to six percent of the PPM sample is comprised of cell-phone-only households, while a significant and growing percentage of young adults and Hispanics and African-Americans live in cell-phone-only households.# PPMC asserts that 19.3 percent of Hispanic households and 18.3 percent of African-American households are cell-phone-only, whereas 12.9 percent of non-Hispanic white households are cell-phone-only.#

Among other things, PPMC also complains that: (1) PPM has a 66 percent smaller sample size than the diary, often making it impossible to target age or gender subsets of minority audiences because standard industry metrics require at least 30 respondents in a cell to run ratings data;# (2) PPM samples are not built using street addresses, and therefore fail to ensure statistically representative inclusion of cell-phone-only households;# (3) young minorities are reluctant to carry visible PPMs;# (4) Hispanic PPM recruitment methods skew toward English-dominant persons because potential panelists are identified by origin rather than by language;# (5) PPM response and compliance rates fall below industry norms;# (6) PPMs record exposure to radio signals, but they do not capture listener loyalty, which is high among minorities;# (7) PPM reports provide less granular data in terms of geography;# (8) PPM reports do not contain income data, country of origin data, or data that accounts sufficiently for language preferences;# and (9) PPM panelists may be corrupted more easily by radio personnel because the PPM device often visibly identifies them and their expected participation is two years instead of the usual one-week participation in the diary system.#

PPMC states that radio programmers are taking the preliminary PPM under-reporting of minority radio listening so seriously that programmers who can do so are already beginning to abandon formats that target minority audiences.# PPMC and others are concerned that the stability of the radio industry is at stake because radio broadcasters rely on the sale of commercial advertising for their only revenue stream, and Arbitron’s data has a direct impact on advertising sales.# While PPMC concedes that Arbitron has indicated its willingness to re-examine its sampling methods and make improvements by 2010, it contends that those improvements would be “far too little and far too late.”# According to PPMC, most advertisers are likely to accept Arbitron’s assertions that PPM results are more accurate than diary results, and will rely on flawed PPM data.#


So who exactly are these concerned "broadcasters, media organizations, and others"? They are defined only in the fine print and hardly seem like a broad-based segment of the population:


# PPMC Petition at i. The PPMC consists of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, Spanish Radio Association, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, American Hispanic Advertising Association, Border Media Partners, Entravision Communications Corporation, ICBC Broadcast Holdings, Inc., Spanish Broadcasting System, Inc., and Univision Communications Inc. The Media Bureau sought comment on the Emergency Petition. Comments were due September 24, 2008; replies were due October 6, 2008. See PPM Coalition Files Petition Seeking Commission Inquiry Pursuant to Section 403 of the Communications Act (47 U.S.C. § 403), MB Docket No. 08-187, Public Notice, 23 FCC Rcd 13302 (MB rel. Sept. 4, 2008).

Comments were received and reviewed. Under the inquiry sought by PPMC, the Commission would use subpoenas for document production, conduct witness testimony under oath, and fashion appropriate protective orders as necessary to avoid disclosure of confidential information. We note also that the New York City Council convened a hearing on September 10, 2008, regarding a proposed resolution seeking an FCC investigation of Arbitron’s PPM methodology and its potential effect on the diversity of radio (Proposed Res. No. 1583-A). Representatives from Arbitron, Inc., the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, among others, testified at the hearing. The New York City Council passed the resolution by unanimous vote on Sept. 24, 2008. See Letter from Christine C. Quinn, Speaker, New York City Council, to Kevin J. Martin, Chairman, FCC (Sept. 24, 2008).



In their quest to restore inflated ad revenues based on phantom listenership, these special interest groups are relying on two arguments: first, that minority households lack landlines (meaning it is theoretically harder to be reached by Arbitron) and that young African-Americans and other ethnic minorities are less inclined to participate in the PPM surveys.

But aren't those issues, even if shown to be legitimate, also of concern with the old paper diary system? What's the difference? In addition to telephone calls, Arbitron contacts potential diarykeepers via mail and has sometimes oversampled minority groups to account for these concerns.

That's what this is really about: the Obama Administration forcing Arbitron, a private company, to disproportionately sample certain groups in order to "restore" past fraudulently-obtained ratings. If they can't do that, they'll push to eliminate this technology and return to paper diaries.

Either way, it's win-win for hip-hop and lose-lose for news / talk and many music formats. If Obama can take over banks and the auto industry, how does a radio ratings service have a prayer?


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13 Comments:

  • So the racist FCC panel thinks the ratings system is racist. That's rich.

    When free speech falls we are done as a free country.

    By Blogger 10ksnooker, at 18 May, 2009 18:59  

  • At the risk of asking a silly question, what can the FCC do about this?

    Arbitron is a private company. Furthermore, they don't broadcast over the public airwaves -- they simply measure the audience. So what jurisdiction does the FCC have over this?

    By Blogger BrooklynWolf, at 18 May, 2009 19:18  

  • The cat is out of the bag.

    Why would an advertiser want to throw good money after bad to advertise on a rap station if no one is listening to it?

    By Anonymous jbenson2, at 18 May, 2009 19:43  

  • I'll go one further - what's to stop any other organization from setting up shop and making their own measurements and publishing the results?

    By Anonymous NJ Kilowatts, at 18 May, 2009 23:33  

  • Welcome to the new bizarro world of Obama.

    Don't say that no one told you it would be this way. They did.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 19 May, 2009 00:00  

  • When will those concerned with "fairness" address the New York Times and their refusal to run stories that are not flattering to The One?

    By Blogger Munsey, at 19 May, 2009 04:57  

  • I live in NJ and I am still surprised that in the NYC metro area there is not one country music station. There are lots of people in this area who like country - where is their representation?

    By Anonymous MerNJ, at 19 May, 2009 08:20  

  • Munsey

    Ever actually read the times? Try the op-ed section, 3 different conservatives write about Obama and it's not exactly positive. Do any conservatives actually read the NYT or do they let Rush read it for them?

    As far as this. I don't know if it's the governments job to get involved with radio ratings, I don't see this huge drop off in black or hispanic stations anywhere, the ratings are the almost the same, I do not see the problem and I have looked at all the major markets.

    By Anonymous Rush'sOxyDealer, at 19 May, 2009 09:18  

  • Obamist FCC Announces Crackdown On 'Racist' Radio Ratings>>
    =============
    The title should be changed thus

    Obamist FCC Announces Racist Crackdown on Radio Ratings

    By Blogger John Galt, at 19 May, 2009 11:22  

  • rather than crying racism.. Try to compete. Come up with better ideas that are accountable for delivering ROI. With Advertising budgets going in 20 different directions, advertisers and agencies don't specifically buy on AQH Ratings anymore. If you turn results, they will continue, regardless of the ratings. So, don't cry racism, try to compete.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 19 May, 2009 12:46  

  • Liberalism is the avoidance of accountability, at any cost, for those seen as incapable.
    What scares me the most is that Liberals see Black Americans as incapable and unaccountable. Our President is a Black American. Will he ever be held accountable?

    By Blogger JohnMac, at 19 May, 2009 21:01  

  • Most of the criticisms of the PPM sampling methodology are quite reasonable, and they could be made of any survey method that tries to sample into minority populations. There are volumes of books and papers written about these problems, and their solutions, in the survey literature. This isn't new.

    Disproportionate sampling, by the way, does not mean disproportionate results. It is a technique used to increase response rates (and to allow certain statistical techniques to be used) in small sub-populations, which appears to be one of the criticisms. The results for that sub-population are then weighted to bring the answers back into proportion with the general population. This is very mundane statistical analysis.

    Certainly there are political issues here. However, it is possible for Arbitron to address these criticisms without corrupting the success of the PPM. In fact, from a survey methodology standpoint, it would improve the PPM. This doesn't have to be an "us vs. them" issue.

    By Blogger blueguitarbob, at 20 May, 2009 09:50  

  • So the "pro-transparency" thing to do is to support personal diaries that can be corrupted vs an electronic meauring device. The hippocrisy never ends...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 29 May, 2009 04:37  

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