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Liggins: Economy, Not PPM, Is Hurting Minority Stations

Embedded PPM in cell phone a fix?

In this week’s Hill hearing about PPM, Rep. Edolphus Towns characterized Arbitron as an “unregulated monopoly” several times, setting a strident tone for the day. But it’s unclear what legislators can or might do about the dispute.

I don’t think Congress can tell Arbitron to bring back the diary in PPM markets and continue to run both services in those areas; that also would be prohibitively expensive. And the rub is that while stations say they’re paying up to 60% more for PPM ratings than they do for the diary, if Arbitron actually did more in-person recruitment, that would add to the costs as well.

Charles Warfield of ICBC Broadcast Holdings said his company’s African-American-targeted stations “have experienced a disproportionate reduction” in PPM ratings compared to the diary. He suggested one way to solve the issue may be to release minority stations from their “burdensome” contracts with Arbitron.

Radio One CEO Al Liggins disagreed with his fellow broadcasters, saying “PPM is neither affecting diversity of our airwaves nor contributing to a [ratings] decline.” Rather, since PPM measures actual radio exposure, PPM is “exposing poor choices made in good times,” referring to companies, like his, that became over-leveraged and took on too much debt. “There is always a learning curve with new technology. I’d rather get that out of the way now.”

The diary, he said, was biased in favor of legacy stations with a strong brand; PPM plays no favorites, he said. In fact, from PPM, which offers a minute-by-minute look at listener tune-in and out, Radio One has learned that a strategy of long 40-minute music sweeps while clustering spots into one-20-minute break doesn’t work. Tom Joyner has almost totally revamped the elements of his morning show based on what he learned from PPM, Liggins said.

“We need to move forward with PPM, adapt to it and work with Arbitron to make it better,” said Liggins. He noted that MRC accreditation takes a long time and the current system cannot offer a ratings company with concrete benchmarks to meet.

While Liggins suggested that new census data would help Arbitron update its panel samples, Jessica Pantanini, incoming chair of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, said that data won’t be available for another two years. “If you can’t draw an advertiser today, they won’t be back. Without the numbers, we can’t justify being in on a buy.”

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the ranking minority member of the committee and the only Republican on hand at the hearing, said he planned to draft a letter to Arbitron asking what the company can do to provide more analysis without increasing the burden on stations. Issa commented to Arbitron’s CEO Michael Skarzynski that perhaps, if the PPM could be embedded in a cell phone, this problem would go away. Skarzynski said that’s the next-gen product the company is looking at.