Arbitron Case Shows You Can’t Trust Multicultural-Audience Ratings


By Edward T. Rincon (Ad Age)

Audience ratings by companies such as Arbitron and Nielsen have played an important role in determining where advertising dollars are spent for the growing black, Latino and Asian consumer segments. But a lawsuit settlement reached between Arbitron and the California Attorney General is a wake-up call to all users of media ratings who target those audiences.

The lawsuit alleged that Arbitron’s launch of Portable People Meters (PPM) to measure the listenership of radio stations in California violated state law by dramatically undercounting minority audiences. According to court documents, stations that served minority audiences in Los Angeles experienced substantial ratings decreases after the introduction of the PPM system.

Two practices were at issue. First, to recruit blacks and Latinos to its audience panels, Arbitron relied primarily on land-line telephones, which excluded many young black and Latino listeners who rely on cellphones, a large segment of the audience. Secondly, the exclusion of country of origin as a category in the Hispanic sampling strategy overlooked the fact that the over- or under-inclusion of foreign-born Hispanics can substantially influence audience ratings .

As a result of this settlement, Arbitron will be required to 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. It also must take reasonable steps to increase minority participation in the audience panels and incorporate country of origin as a standard demographic characteristic from Hispanic households.

This is not the first time that Arbitron has been required to clean up its dirty laundry. In 2009, it settled lawsuits brought by the states of New York and New Jersey alleging that the company’s marketing and commercialization of the PPM service violated consumer fraud and civil-rights laws. Arbitron agreed to pay $490,000 as part of a settlement to ensure that its ratings panels were racially diverse.

Should you be concerned if you are not using Arbitron’s rating services? The answer is “absolutely yes,” for two reasons. First, unlike Arbitron, the vast majority of research suppliers are not held accountable by a federal agency for the accuracy of their media ratings . Secondly, the absence of a definable set of standards for multicultural research means that the media buyer is likely to encounter inaccurate ratings that result from questionable industry practices.

A few examples of these questionable practices will illustrate my point.   CLICK HERE FOR MORE!

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