Arbitron: House Report On Minority Undercount Doesn't Add Up

Arbitron says the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is headed by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), came to "erroneus conclusions" in an analysis of the company's Portable People Meters (PPMs). Those included that the ratings company was not sufficiently recruiting Spanish-dominant Hispanics for its survey.

The committee has been looking into complaints that the PPMs undercount minority viewers, including African Americans and Hispanics.

"Over the last four months, Arbitron has been actively engaged with Chairman Towns and the Oversight Committee Staff. Arbitron has been open and forthcoming, supplying detailed information, answering questions and providing proactive recommendations to address the challenges faced by minority broadcasters. We were aware of the Committee’s contact to the Media Rating Council (MRC) and we are extremely surprised and disappointed at the analysis and erroneous conclusions reached by the Oversight Committee Staff and communicated in their press statement," Arbitron said in its own press statement.

"We respect and support Chairman Towns’ commitment to the health of minority broadcasters and believe that our collaboration with his staff, the MRC, as well as a number of initiatives that we have underway, will help address that challenge. We look forward to a fact-based dialogue as we clarify some of the erroneous conclusions reached in this current analysis, and will continue to work to resolve these issues."

The committee released a report Tuesday (Sept. 22) of its findings after subpoenaing the Media Ratings Council for documents of its oversight of the PPM. MRC was created by Congress back in the 1960s to independnently vet media ratings, though tis seal of approval is not necessary for a company or technology to operate in the space.

The release of the report comes the same week that the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters meets in Washington.

The committee said it had "uncovered" instances in which MRC refused accreditation and found persistent problems with Arbitron's minority sample, as well as documents showing the company's ratings were based on data from an "unacceptably low" sample size and the company had made "insufficient" efforts to recruit "Spanish dominant Hispanic sample participants."

The congressional investigation was partly prompted by complaints from some of the Brooklyn constituents of committee Chairman Edolphus Townes (D-NY). Arbitron has said before it is happy to talk about the meters with Congress, the FCC and stakeholders, pointing out it has already been doing that, as well as making improvements to the technology as a result of that dialog.

While it is primarily about radio-listening, the issue is important to TV stations as well.

The FCC uses Arbitron markets in its multiple ownership rules, which determine in which markets TV, radio and newspapers can be co-owned.

The FCC and the Government Accountability Office have also been looking into the complaints about the PPMs.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.