Tuesday, June 30, 2009

U.S. lawmaker probes device over minority radio data


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A key U.S. lawmaker said on Monday he has launched an investigation into Arbitron Inc`s device to track the public`s listening habits because it may under represent some ethnic and age groups.
Arbitron is a media ratings service company that makes the device called the Portable People Meter (PPM) to measure radio station listenership.
The device has been controversial due to criticisms within the radio industry and state governments that have pointed to some of its flaws. The company still plans to deploy the devices even with the lack of accreditation from the Media Rating Council.
"I remain deeply concerned that without deliberate and timely investigations into this matter the increased use of PPM will further threaten the financial viability of minority targeted radio stations," said Edolphus Towns, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Towns said he was concerned that the device hasn`t been distributed within minority communities and Arbitron missed a group of households that use only cell phones.
Not having a proper representation of certain groups imperils the financial viability of minority audience radio stations that depend on advertising revenues.
"To date, many of these stations continue to suffer from significant downgrades in ratings, threatening the extent of their programing or even ultimate closure," Towns said in the letter to FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.
Towns said Arbitron has made an effort to correct some flaws in implementing the device as part of settlement agreements reached with New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
But he said he wants to know what the regulatory agency has found from a recent study into the device.
Arbitron said in a statement that it looks forward to sharing its expertise and insights based on its long history of gathering, distributing and supporting data and information.
"We maintain an ongoing dialogue with broadcasters, industry groups, advertising agencies, the Federal Communications Commission, and Congress as part of our commitment to continuous improvement program for the PPM service and technologies," said Arbitron President Michael Skarzynski.
In January Arbitron agreed to pay New York $260,000 and another $130,000 to New Jersey to resolve claims that it undercounted minority radio listeners. As part of a settlement reached with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the company agreed to also pay $100,000 to the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and the Spanish Radio Association to support minority radio.
Towns, a New York Democrat, said he wants to hear back from the FCC by July 1.
(Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Richard Chang)
Original article

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