The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

14 July 2009

Republican AG Sues Over 'Racist' Ratings System


Republican AG McCollum Sues Over 'Racist' Ratings

Just one day after an unprecedented request for a federal minority broadcasting bailout was made, a new front in the war against "racist" ratings has opened up in the state of Florida.

It's enough to make Al Sharpton & Friends jump for joy twice over: while weakened radio operators he favors seek to grab lifesaving taxpayer handouts, the new, more accurate electronic ratings system that prevents cheating is potentially shut down.

Known as the Portable People Meter (PPM), Arbitron's high-tech measuring device does away with old-style, fraud-prone diaries. In many cities, the updated technique has revealed significantly higher news-talk ratings, seemingly at the expense of hip-hop and certain other music stations. Diaries were prone to great exaggeration by highly-motivated fans of FM morning shows on music stations.

While campaigning last year, Barack Obama took an official position against PPM.

Eliminating PPM could have the effect of reducing ratings for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Dr Laura Schlessinger and a host of local talkers across the country.

But while previous opposition to PPM on racial grounds has come entirely from Democrats, today they were happily joined by a Republican: Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. A declared candidate for governor next year, McCollum today took the extreme step of filing suit against Arbitron, claiming PPM is harming minority-owned stations.

From the South Florida Business Journal:

The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court by Attorney General Bill McCollum, alleges that Arbitron’s sampling methodology “significantly undercounts” minority listeners, and that the “flawed ratings … threaten the viability of ratio stations … that air programming targeted at those minorities.”

Arbitron solicits listeners intended to be representative of the market being measured. They agree to have their radio listening monitored through Portable People Meters (PPMs), which record encoded transmissions in radio frequencies detected in the vicinity of the device. Arbitron then converts the data into ratings of the radio stations in that market. Those ratings are expected to be released later this week.

Advertisers rely on the ratings to determine where to buy commercials. The lawsuit alleges that Arbitron’s PPM service produces unreliable ratings because it fails to recruit minorities as panelists and, ultimately, fails to use sufficient data from minorities to calculate ratings.

The suit claims that Arbitron has produced “pre-currency” ratings in the Miami area market based on the new methodology that “show significant decreases for several minority broadcasters, especially given the fact that certain minority broadcasters are not subscribing to this methodology and are thus excluded from the ratings.”

Advertising agencies have already begun contacting numerous minority broadcasters in the Miami market, seeking to negotiate a 30 percent to 50 percent discount in their rates in anticipation of the currency ratings under Arbitron’s new methodology, the suit claims.

But pre-currency ratings
are not legitmate, they represent a trial run in each market while Arbitron fine-tunes the system. To file suit based on those preliminary numbers is putting the cart before the horse.

While suits have also been filed in Maryland and New York, this is the first case of a Republican being pulled into Sharpton's kooky ratings conspiracy theory. If McCollum has made this move to boost his gubernatorial candidacy, he'd better watch for a potential backlash from conservative talk radio fans who aren't inclined to carry water for friends of Obama.

Meanwhile, Arbitron faces renewed pressure over PPM from far-left Democrats in the House of Representatives, who are now pushing for a second congressional investigation. From Research:

Critics of Arbitron’s portable people meter-based (PPM) radio ratings system are lobbying for a second congressional investigation into claims that minority broadcasters have been adversely affected by the introduction of the technology.

James Winston, executive director of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (Nabob), led calls for the House Committee on the Judiciary - chaired by Congressman John Conyers (pictured) - to intervene at a hearing last Thursday, citing Arbitron’s “failure” to obtain accreditation from the Media Rating Council (MRC) in 13 out of 15 PPM markets as grounds for an investigation.

“Arbitron has not implemented PPM correctly, and the refusal of the MRC to accredit it only reinforces the accuracy of Nabob’s assessment,” Winston said. “If Arbitron is allowed to move forward issuing flawed reports on African-American and Hispanic audiences, it will result in huge financial losses for the radio stations serving those audiences and might even force some stations out of business.”

Last week’s hearing focused on trends affecting minority broadcast ownership. Though other issues were raised in the testimonies given by witnesses, the introduction of PPM emerged as a common cause for concern. Already the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are holding their own inquiries.

Under unprecedented political
pressure, Arbitron counters that the government can't control a private company's proprietary research. PPM foes seem to realize this, that's why their approach involves nothing less than brute force to eliminate this technological advancement in audience measurement.

McCollum image: Orlando Sentinel

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  • When was the last time you purposely tuned your dial to listen to some minority station?

    I rest my case.

    By Blogger 10ksnooker, at 14 July, 2009 20:01  

  • Conservatives are not paying attention. Has this been posted on FR or any other site?

    By Blogger GeronL, at 14 July, 2009 21:54  

  • Racism is not an issue here.

    By Anonymous Watch Free TV Now, at 14 July, 2009 23:40  

  • I'm a liberal, but I strongly disagree with a lawsuit or with doing away with the new system. You can't get pissed off because reality isn't what you thought it was. That isn't anyone's fault but your own. If stations lose advertisers, so be it. That's the free market. Let's see what the true ratings are for radio stations. I'm sick of turning to the only two "pop" stations in my area (Northwest Florida) only to hear rap music that apparently nobody really likes anyway.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 15 July, 2009 09:21  

  • Race Hustlers and poverty pimps can't stand the truth.

    I would suspect this "republican" is nothing more than a RINO postitioning himself for a run for a higher office.

    By Blogger PCD, at 15 July, 2009 13:32  

  • Sadly, don't expect McCollum to catch heat. The Florida GOP has rigged the game to prevent a challenge by a true conservative.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 15 July, 2009 14:55  

  • so more accurate ratings are racist? that's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard or read about

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 16 July, 2009 18:46  

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