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Arbitron Hails FCC PPM Inquiry

Company calls NOI a chance to explain the benefits of electronic measurement

You might at first think that Arbitron would take Monday’s FCC announcement as a blow.

But the research company said it is welcoming the Federal Communications Commission’s inquiry into the methodology of the Portable People Meter, calling it a good opportunity to explain the benefits of the electronic ratings system compared to the paper diary method.

“We have consistently expressed our willingness to participate in a Notice of Inquiry” in documents Arbitron has filed with the FCC after private meetings with commissioners, spokesman Thom Mocarsky said.

An NOI is not the same as a formal investigation. Parties may express their views on a variety of issues in an NOI, which is different from a closed, adversarial proceeding before an administrative law judge. A closed investigation would likely lead to “freezing” the parties into a litigation-like adversarial postures and would divert company resources away from efforts to improve PPM services, he said.

Arbitron was reacting to the news Monday that the commission plans to conduct a Notice of Inquiry into how the PPM affects stations, and especially minority-owned facilities. Minority groups such as the Hispanic Broadcasters Association and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters say PPM undercounts minority listeners, which, in turn, has affected stations’ ability to garner advertising dollars.

Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps says agency also wants to be confident of Arbitron’s methodology because it relies on the data when making decisions about station transactions, for example.

Mocarsky said, “We appreciate that Chairman Copps has commended Arbitron for trying to improve our ratings methodology and for committing significant resources to that effort. We also appreciate that Commissioner McDowell has acknowledged that Arbitron and a number of broadcasters have said that our new automated approach to ratings measurement offers significant improvements over the older, manual diary-reporting system.”