Friday, February 26, 2010

Media: Ratings in Trouble?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Long-time readers of this blog will be aware that it has tried to follow the implementation of the Arbitron Portable People Meter (PPM) as the new technology to measure radio listenership has been rolled out in the United States in Canada. In the last update, the concerns of an influential program director in San Francisco were explored.

Since then, the PPM has hardly seen clear sailing. Of the 33 markets in the United States where Arbitron has attempted to introduce the devices, only three have been certified by a Media Rating Council audit. It has been outright rejected in 18 markets, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Aribtron has successfully gone to court to force the Spanish Broadcasting System (SBS) to keep doing PPM encoding on its broadcasts, which the SBS had claimed it no longer needed to do because the PPM wasn't providing it with accurate data. In the middle of all this, Arbitron has changed Chief Executive Officers.

While the failed audits indicate a potential technical problem with the devices (or methodology), others have now opined that the PPM has simply highlighted deeper problems with the whole rating process. A well-known rating consultant, Mike Henry, has been particularly outspoken. As described in Michael Hood's BlatherWatch blog, Henry wants the US to go to the Canadian model, in which the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement is a non-profit organization controlled by the broadcasters. Rather than alienating its customers (both radio stations and advertisers), in Canada, they effectively control the process and thus have input at every stage of the ratings process.

For now, Henry's opinion seems to be in the minority. Unless Arbitron gets its act together, though, both technically and in terms of its relations with both radio stations and advertisers, his views may become mainstream, and there may be a lot of radio people visiting Ottawa to figure out how to structure a new system.

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