By Edolphus “Ed” Towns (N.Y.)
I have launched an investigation into widespread complaints that Arbitron’s new ratings system, the Portable People Meter (PPM), inaccurately measures the listening preferences of survey participants, which leads to lower ratings for minority focused radio stations. One concern is that the device picks up signals where the device is carried, but it does not pick up the listening preferences when the device is docked at home, which distorts listener preferences. I have also heard concerns that Arbitron does not adequately sample cell phone only households; therefore, the preferences of minority listeners might not be accurately recorded.
Since Arbitron started using the PPM in New York, minority broadcasters have seen an average drop of 40-60% in their ratings. The Spanish Broadcasting Systems owns two stations in New York. The first, WDKQ, reports a 55% decline in its ratings, while the second, WPAT, reporters a 67% decline in ratings.
The resulting under-participation and underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic listeners in Arbitron’s ratings system could, in turn, lead to the cancellation of important programs that exhibit particular appeal to minority audiences. Even though it is far too soon for us to determine if there is a real cause and effect relationship between the slump in ratings and the PPM device, the potential consequences are too significant to ignore.
As part of this investigation, I have also written a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Copps, asking him to provide me with the findings of an investigation that the Commission recently launched into the new ratings system. I have also directed Chairman Copps to provide me with the roll-out schedule that the FCC has imposed on Arbitron as it introduces this rating system into homes around the country.
Given the important implications of ratings accuracy to the future of minority community focused radio, we need to ensure that Arbitron gets this right. My Committee will make this a priority until we are satisfied that the new ratings system gives minority listeners the stand ing they deserve. [source]