Radio

Rater Hater

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Portable People Meter, what have you done? The House Committee for Oversight and Government Reform says the ratings provider Arbitron's new audience-rating technology is hurting minority broadcasters, and has handed out a fishing-trip subpoena to the terrestrial radio industry's ratings accreditation body.

Radio is the ugliest in a flock of ugly ducklings.

Don't mourn the body, or the industry. The real question is why controversy (from many state attorneys general and both houses of Congress) continues to swirl around the portable people meter (PPM), a metered wearable device that tracks your actual radio-listening habits (through inaudible codes emitted by broadcasters) rather than your claimed radio-listening habits (as was the case with the previous system, a diary you had to turn in once a week). Here's background by me.

Oversight Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) demands thousands of documents related to Arbitron's PPM implementation from the Media Rating Council (MRC), an industry-funded organization that accredits ratings service providers. The charges:

•On multiple occasions, MRC refused to grant accreditation to PPM for use in all markets across the United States except for Houston and Riverside/San Bernardino. MRC denied Arbitron accreditation because of the company's continual failure meet MRC minimum accreditation standards.

•MRC found "persistent problems" with Arbitron's minority sample audiences across the country. For example, New York City 2008 census data indicates African Americans comprised 25 percent and Hispanics comprised 27 percent of the City's population. Meanwhile, the subpoenaed documents show that Arbitron's New York City sample audiences comprised of only 17.7 percent African-American and 21.5 percent Hispanic participants.

•The documents also show that Arbitron's radio ratings almost consistently are based on data they receive from an unacceptably low percentage of their sample audiences. For example, in New York, where there is an average of 5400 sample audience participants, Arbitron uses only the data submitted by 2700 persons or 50% of the sample audience in order to create radio station ratings. Therefore, the radio listening habits of over four million ethnic minorities are represented by only 500 Arbitron recruits. The sample audiences are simply an inadequate representation of the true listening habits of New York's diverse landscape.

So is technology racist? There is a claim here about the sample that should be easy to figure out. But what's the claim against the technology itself? If Arbitron gets a sample that looks like America, or New York, or whatever unit it needs the sample to look like, then PPM just makes a more accurate measure of that sample.

In this hard-to-follow chart, the oppressor class constructs "fact"-based narratives to justify their own hegemony.

There is one partly credible argument that PPM might skew against minorities in a way the diaries did not: People from different demographics are not equally willing to wear a passive metering device all day.

That split, however, occurs mostly around age and gender: Fighting-age males are less likely to comply with the portable people meter's longterm demands. Women over 35 are most likely to comply, which may help explain the ubiquitous cougar theme that all sampling-based media seem to think America wants to see these days.

Raters have a long policy of providing extra incentives for unlikely-to-comply groups. Audience research companies target compensation packages by age, ethnicity and gender in order to get more generous samplings of particular audience fragments. Towns' statistics are anecdotal evidence that Arbitron's efforts along these lines have failed. (It's notable that most of Towns' case seems to be built out of the MRC's own due diligence with Arbitron—a strong indicator that to whatever degree the system is supposed to work, it's working.)

But maybe there will be strong evidence of Arbitron's negligence in the documents the Committee is ordering MRC to cough up. (Many believe so.)

Or maybe the problem is that people just aren't listening to as much radio as broadcasters and regulators previously believed. The entire medium saw a decline in overall listeners after the switch to PPM-based ratings. Some stations have taken hits that far exceeded the industry average. (And some have benefited, such as Los Angeles' excellent classical station KUSC, which was named the top-ranked public station in the country when PPM measures kicked in.)

What I don't understand—and after a long discussion with a friendly Committee staffer, I understand it even less—is whether Towns is concerned about a new problem or an old one. If his objection is that Arbitron isn't getting the right people in its sample, that's a problem you would have had under the diary system too. And if there is a problem with the PPM technology, well, nobody has been able to explain what that problem is or could be. Undoubtedly Towns has received "many complaints from minority broadcasters."  Less clear is whether they're mad because their PPM ratings are inaccurate, or just because they're lower.  

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  1. It is like the objections to photo id voting. On the local talk show Bowtie sez to Black Bowtie, they just elected their first Rep mayor in Albequerque and it was their first id required election. And Black Bowtie sez, yeah that is the intent, to elect Republicans. See, any election that elects Republicans is fraudulent. Any election that elects a Democrat is legit. The gripes on display with the PPM will be the same that drive the Obama census to count people who are not there if they are dusky and to fail to count people who are there, if they are not. It’s really quite simple when you know the rules.

    1. Albequerque, located in the state that made park for Poncho Villa.

      A republican elected there must have been an act of God. No amount of cheating could be the answer.

      1. Albequerque, located in the state that made named a park for after Poncho Villa.

        ugh

  2. On a related note, Steve Dahl is apparently now suing Arbitron over his ratings–although, from the tone of his comments (i.e., blaming Arbitron for inflated diary-era ratings, instead of for depressed PPM-era ratings), I don’t think he’s really being serious.

    1. EJM, it’s a joke.

      Who the hell quotes Chet Chitchat for truth?

      1. I can’t remember which one it was, but one of the radio-industry sites today mentioned the “story” and didn’t pick up on it either.

        However, after I finally did RTFA, I realized that it probably wasn’t kosher.

  3. People from different demographics are not equally willing to wear a passive metering device all day.

    The joke writes itself.

  4. If I were to wear a PPM, the sample would be a little skewed. I usually don’t listen to radio at all. In fact, the only time I hear a radio is when I am with a friend who listens to a “Christian” station. Thus, I would definitely be an outlier in the “Atheist” demographic.

    1. But it would be measuring what you are actually being exposed to.

      1. So if a radio is playing in my vicinity I’m exposed to the station? even if I can’t hear it? fucking magic…

        1. Yes, unless you have your tinfoil applied properly.

    2. I would suppose though that in their screening process for would-be listeners, they would ask for people who claim to listen to the radio frequently. Don’t you think??

      My wife would be a good candidate – she listens mostly to radio in the car. I mix it up between Satellite and CDs/MP3s (i.e. my own music). As such, the music trends would continue towards her tastes rather than mine, thus exacerbating my tendency not to listen to regular radio.

  5. Naturally, the only way to address selection bias (created by unwillingness to wear a PPM) is to mandate that they be worn, and perhaps to surgically implant them.

    Its the only way to deal with racism in broadcasting! Only a racist would oppose mandatory government monitoring devices!

    Just trying to get my mind right in our new post-racial era. Boy, those people who thought that electing our new post-racial President would empower the race hustlers and revive the race card were sure wrong, weren’t they?

    1. You know you have won your battle when they stop telling you to go sit on the porch.

    2. I blame right-wing radio’s dominance on the left’s inability to work the knobs.

      1. “…my switch tastes funny…” Ralph Wigham 2008

      2. It’s not about working the knobs. It’s about working at all. Poeple who work listen to the radio at work or in the car. People who don’t work watch TV at home. Are leftists more likely to not work, or are people who don’t work more likely to be leftists? This comes straight out of my ass, but I’d be inclined to believe the people that do the least amount of work would be the most receptive to redistribution of other people’s wealth. Almost seems obvious.

        1. people that do the least amount of work would be the most receptive to redistribution of other people’s wealth

          In a nation that has a work ethic, yes. Else there’s no wealth to redistribute. After all the wealth has been looted is when the real fun begins. Right, Pol Pot?

    3. WHAT IS THIS “ERECTION BIAS” OF WHICH YOU SPEAK?

      1. I think that was the Asian accent you were using as you read the article to yourself.

  6. Apparently, facts are now racist. Could it be that God is a racist and has constructed reality with a racial bias?

  7. Why in the name of FSM is the fucking government even concerning itself with this?

    1. because they hope we can change…

    2. Would you rather they concern themselves with things that actually impact your life?

      1. dammit. I want them to focus on important things. And then not do anything.

  8. A whole lot of trouble to go to for accurately gauging the usage of a dead technology. If diaries are good enough to track punch card use, they are good enough for radio.

    1. You still use pencils and paper don’t you? Radio isn’t obsolete, but it has suffered a decline due to competition from other newer types of media.

      There are relatively few technologies that ever become completely obsolete, but usually they are relegated to smaller and smaller niche uses. Radio doesn’t necessarily seem to have been replaced by any universally better technology (like typewriters) because the advantages of broadcasting audio information over some portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (be it AM, FM, Satellite or in the TV and Cellphone/wireless net bandwidths)to a targetted audience and funded by advertising are still valid.

  9. “A RKO Radio Picture”

    “That’s funny, I didn’t know radios had pictures”

  10. My mind makes the pictures. Suge gives good dialogue.

  11. So is technology racist?

    If one has to RTFM, yes.

  12. OF COURSE technology is racist.

    http://thechive.com/2009/04/yo…..-retard-2/

  13. The only stations complaining are those whos ratings are lower in PPM than they were in diary. There is not a PEEP out of ethnic stations (couple noteable ones in Houston, others scattered around the country like WVEE in Atlanta) who are performing well in the meter world.

    All of this comes down to simple capitalistic survival. If your income is threatened due to something new, even if its better technology, you will fight it with all your might. Look at the so-called “debate” over global warming. Or health-care…or anything pitting large industries against each other.

  14. For example, New York City 2008 census data indicates African Americans comprised 25 percent and Hispanics comprised 27 percent of the City’s population.

    New York City had a census in 2008? Why? They just have to do it again next year. Do they have one every two years, or what?

  15. What’s the claimed government interest here? If Arbitron is selling radio stations ratings data that don’t accurately reflect the actual numbers of listeners to various stations, doesn’t that just mean they’re peddling a shoddy product?

  16. A lot of those comments at the Slate article about “Cougar Town” are incredibly stupid. No, they’re retarded. Retarded comments made by retarded assholes.

    1. But Heather’s column is a direct hit. I watched five minutes of that show and all I could think was “Nobody involved in the production of this show has ever met a human being.”

      1. Agreed. She was spot on with the “bony and hairless bodies” observation, too.

  17. Sorry, I meant Salon, not Slate.

  18. Sorry, I meant Salon, not Slate.

  19. Wow, it’s really easy to double-post with this new scheme. I think I blinked while clicking.

  20. I think it’s fascinating that classical stations are now getting credit for all the play they get in elevators and office environments.

    And I’m amused as hell that government is so concerned that Big Media is buying inaccurate data.

  21. Double-posting a correction to a comment calling someone a retard deserves its own name.

    You really Nooged that one, Nooge.

    1. Sir, you wound me. I must now drink beer to in order to heal.

      Actually, I’ll take that over what “Santorum” became.

      Everyone: the submit button is one a hair trigger. Don’t blink or you’ll Nooge it.

      1. God fucking damnit.

  22. The documents also show that Arbitron’s radio ratings almost consistently are based on data they receive from an unacceptably low percentage of their sample audiences. For example, in New York, where there is an average of 5400 sample audience participants, Arbitron uses only the data submitted by 2700 persons or 50% of the sample audience in order to create radio station ratings. Therefore, the radio listening habits of over four million ethnic minorities are represented by only 500 Arbitron recruits. The sample audiences are simply an inadequate representation of the true listening habits of New York’s diverse landscape.

    It’s been years since I took statistics, but is this an unacceptably low percentage? If I’m doing the math correctly, 2700 people gives an error rate of ~1.8% at 95% confidence, which is better than political polling (which is to be expected, given the larger sample size). Taking the percentage of minorities in the sample and getting 500 people from that is voodoo math, simply to emphasize the “small size” of the sample. If the sample is random (which it seems it’s not, but that’s a separate issue) then the size of the sample is adequate at 2700.

    But of course, this requires five minutes of research on Wikipedia (to refresh my memory on the formula), so how should politicians be expected to know this?

  23. One actual concern about PPM accuracy is that foreign language speakers get credited as listening to english stations when they’re out in public, even if they can’t understand the broadcast at all. Under the diary system no one listed this sort of inadvertent listening, and that’s made the stations that get played in the grocery store get better ratings relative to other stations under PPM.

  24. I volunteer for a community radio station and we’re getting creamed by the new PPM–I suspect that the station’s devoted listener-members were over-reporting listening hours in the diary era. The loss of that and the gain of all the gas station and supermarket passive listening that is now getting metered are causing a large decline in market share.

  25. But of course, this requires five minutes of research on Wikipedia (to refresh my memory on the formula), so how should politicians be expected to know this?

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