Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Harris, Cities Settle Suit Over Ratings of Black, Latino Stations
By a MetNews Staff Writer
State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen A. Trutanich and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera yesterday settled a lawsuit that they jointly filed against the nation’s primary provider of radio audience ratings.
The complaint, filed last week in San Francisco Superior Court, accused Arbitron Inc., of violating the Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Unruh Civil Rights Act by dramatically undercounting audiences for stations with primarily African-American and Latino audiences. This caused sharp declines in advertising rates and revenue for many of the broadcasters, the complaint alleged.
The stipulation for entry of judgment filed yesterday expressly states that Arbitron does not admit wrongdoing. But the company agreed to make changes in how it does business and to pay $400,000 to the plaintiffs.
The complaint centered on Arbitron’s implementation of “Portable People Meters” to measure radio station listenership in California beginning in 2008. The settlement, Harris said in a statement, “ensures that California’s diverse audiences will be fully counted by Arbitron’s ratings systems and that broadcasters serving these communities will have the opportunity to compete fairly in the marketplace.”
Arbitron’s ratings are based on information provided by sample groups of listeners. In deploying a new system that relied on electronic metering devices in place of personal listenership diaries, Arbitron’s listener recruitment methodology failed to reflect the diversity of broadcast audiences in California markets, the plaintiffs alleged.
Minority stations have complained about PPMs from the beginning of their use in California, and have complained to the Federal Communications Commission as well as to consumer agencies, the complaint noted.
The settlement mandates that Arbitron meet concrete metrics in its efforts to ensure that its audience sampling methods are fair and representative of the markets. Specifically, Arbitron must improve its sample-audience recruitment by increasing address-based outreach to 65 percent of its total recruitment activity by the end of this year.
Harris noted that recruitment has up to now been conducted primarily via land-line telephone, a survey method that failed to adequately include minority households. Arbitron must also take all reasonable steps to increase minority participation in their sample audience panels in five California major media markets.
The company is also required to begin incorporating country of origin as a standard demographic characteristic collected from participating Hispanic households. The monetary portion of the settlement will be divided, with $150,000 each to the state and the City of Los Angeles and $100,000 going to San Francisco.
Harris noted that of 18 stations serving minority audiences in Los Angeles, 16 experienced ratings decreases in excess of 30 percent under the initial PPM system. Three of these fell by over 70 percent.
She cited the example of KJLH, a Los Angeles radio station whose audience is mostly African-American, which was rated 0.0 for a significant portion of the day immediately after implementation of the new PPM ratings.
Trutanich joined the attorney general in praising the settlement.
“In a city as diverse as Los Angeles, it is important that all of our residents and our businesses be equally represented and able to compete in our field of commerce,” the city attorney said. “Only then will all Californians have a voice.”
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company