Arbitron reaches agreement with Calif. AG

Bryan Cohen Mar. 27, 2012, 1:53pm


SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a settlement on Monday with Arbitron Inc., a provider of radio audience ratings, for allegedly discriminating against radio stations with Latino and African-American audiences.

Harris filed a lawsuit jointly with Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. The lawsuit alleged that Arbitron's implementation of Portable People Meters to measure the listenership of radio stations in California violated the state's Unfair Competition Law, Unruh Civil Rights Act and False Advertising Law by dramatically undercounting minority audiences.

The practice, which she says began in 2008, allegedly caused sharp declines in advertising rates and revenue for many broadcasters.

"This settlement 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," Harris said. "I am pleased that Arbitron will be revising its practices in the state and thank my partners in this effort, city attorneys Carmen Trutanich and Dennis Herrera."

The ratings Arbitron collects are based on information provided by sample listener groups. By deploying a system that relied on electronic metering devices instead of personal listenership diaries, the company's recruitment methodology allegedly failed to reflect the diversity of broadcast audiences in markets in California.

Under the terms of the settlement, Arbitron must meet concrete metrics in its attempts to ensure its audience sampling methods are fair and representative of the state's diverse media markets. The company must improve its sample-audience recruitment through audience-based outreach to 65 percent of its total recruitment activity by December 31. The Columbia, Md.-based company will also pay $400,000 to the plaintiffs, $100,000 each to the state of California and the city of Los Angeles, and $100,000 to the city and county of San Francisco.

Arbitron had previously recruited primarily via land-line telephone, which also allegedly failed to adequately include minority households. The company will take all reasonable steps to increase minority participation in their sample audience panels in five California markets for major media.

Arbitron will also begin to incorporate country of origin as a standard demographic characteristic collected from participating Hispanic households, which will serve as a benefit to Spanish-language media outlets.

Radio stations primarily serving Latino and African-American audiences were allegedly disproportionally affected by the sample audience recruitment methods Arbitron started using when switching to the PPM ratings scheme in 2008.

Out of 18 stations that served minority audiences in Los Angeles, 16 experienced ratings decreases of more than 30 percent with the initial PPM system, with three falling by more than 70 percent. One radio station in Los Angeles with a mostly African-American audience was rated 0.0 for a major portion of the day after the new ratings were implemented, while a Spanish-language station that had previously been number one in the Los Angeles market saw its ratings drop by more than 50 percent in September 2008 under the new PPM ratings.

The methodology was criticized by the Media Ratings Council, an independent industry body that accredits media ratings systems, and minority broadcasters. The MRC had previously found problems with the representation of minorities in Arbitron's sample audiences.

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