Houston, We Have Lift Off: Portable People Meter Earns Accreditation

Arbitron reached a major milestone in its campaign to introduce ratings from its Portable People Meter on Monday. Based on its performance in Houston, the device received accreditation from the Media Rating Council. Arbitron has long awaited the MRC stamp of approval, vowing to obtain accreditation before rolling out commercial ratings from the passive electronic measurement device.

With this condition met, all eyes turn to a committee of major radio industry players on electronic measurement. Led by radio giant Clear Channel, the RFP committee has also set MRC accreditation as a prerequisite for any new radio ratings currency.

In this review, Arbitron's PPM is facing off against a proposed "smartphone" system from Ipsos-Media Audit that's still in development.

The current chairman of Arbitron's Radio Advisory Council, Steve Sinicropi, vice president and general manager of Cox Radio's WHZT-FM, remarked: "This is an important step, and something that the council was very concerned about. We think having ratings that are accredited is crucial. This is a very important milestone for Arbitron."

The MRC accreditation comes after a review process lasting almost two years and at least three prior refusals to grant accreditation by the MRC board.

The MRC is a semi-official industry body created at the behest of Congress in 1963 to bring greater transparency to audience measurement. Because its deliberations are confidential, reasons for its earlier refusals haven't been made public. Still, Arbitron is working on methods to improve respondent compliance, apparently in response to MRC concerns.

George Ivie, executive director of the MRC, alluded to the tortuous accreditation review process. "We broke a lot of new ground over the last two years, and Arbitron worked with us constructively during the audit and thereafter... We know that supporting this large audit internally and externally has been a challenge for Arbitron," he says.

In today's announcement, Steve Morris, president and CEO Arbitron Inc., boasted that the PPM is "the only personal, portable electronic meter system in the world that's ever been subjected to an MRC audit and has met the accreditation standards of the Media Rating Council for a radio ratings service."

In fact, Arbitron has staked its future on the successful rollout of the PPM system as a new currency for the radio industry. The current PPM system is the culmination of over 15 years of work and investment totaling in excess of $70 million by Arbitron.

Clear Channel and the RFP committee have been criticized for moving too slowly by industry executives who are impatient for electronic measurement of radio. In the past, the industry committee has rebutted these complaints by noting PPM's failure to earn MRC accreditation. It's too soon to say if MRC accreditation will have any impact on the audit committee's deliberations. A Clear Channel spokesperson declined to comment on Monday.

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