Law & Order: PPM

From Radio & Records:

New York AG Investigates PPM New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo has initiated an investigation into Arbitron’s PPM system. Arbitron received a subpoena today from the NYAG’s office requesting PPM documents dating back to 2003 and has until Sept. 19 to produce the paperwork.

Okay, I have an idea.

If you don’t like the numbers you’re getting from the folks you’re paying to do the best possible job of audience research, something inherently fraught with error no matter who does it and no matter how well, then make up whatever numbers you want.

Research is not perfect. Ratings are not perfect. The diary methodology is not perfect. PPM is not perfect. The errors exist in every methodology and will slice a different way depending on the details of the methodology. Note I said a “different” way, not a right or wrong one.

But when you define “accurate” as numbers you got under one methodology but not another one, you do not understand what “accurate” means. All ratings are estimates, best guesses based on sampling and response factors which are, to some degree, out of the researcher’s control. Further, the very act of changing the response tool will change the ratings – period. And you can’t prove they’re less “accurate” simply because you don’t like the outcome.

There is no such thing as “accurate.” There is only such a thing as numbers you like and numbers you don’t.

Love ’em or hate ’em, it seems to me that Arbitron has every incentive to provide the best possible audience estimates that radio can afford to pay for.

Should Arbitron be held accountable for doing their very best? Sure.

But how far beyond that should our industry go?

The idea of inviting the FCC into this process is galling enough, but to incite attention from the federal legal eagles and with it the implication of deliberate wrong-doing…this is over the top.

It’s a development that will serve to diminish confidence in all radio measurement and in all the stations that use it, regardless of whether that measurement is derived from paper or meters.

Just wait and see.

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