Personal People method criticized, postponed

Arbitron has delayed plans to launch its ambitious new radio ratings service, after several groups have criticized its methodology.

Radio broadcasters including behemoth Clear Channel, have criticized Arbitron’s new Portable People Meter, which was slated to bow next month in New York, and March in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Instead, the new service will now launch in September in those markets, as well as San Francisco and several others.

The Personal People Meter is meant to replace the traditional diary system of tracking ratings, a methodology that has been in place since 1965. The new service, already in place in Houston and Philadelphia, rely on devices that electronically determine which radio station a participant was listening to, and for how long.

In theory, the Personal People Meters are meant to be a more accurate survey of radio listenership, compared to diaries – which rely on the truthfulness of participants.

But the new system’s data has been questioned by radio groups, pointing to some sample sizes (particularly among 18-34 listeners). Arbitron has since admitted that its 18-34 sample in Philadelphia needed to be corrected.

What’s more, early Personal People Meter data has led to smaller ratings for some ethnic- and urban-targeted stations, triggering more controversy.

Nonetheless, radio groups have been prepping for the move to Personal People Meters for months, in some cases making format switches with an eye toward the new measurement. (It’s widely believed that some formats targeting young adults – such as rock – may benefit, as those listeners were less likely to fill out a diary.) Now, those stations will have to wait longer to see if those changes had an impact.

Arbitron will now continue to rely on diaries at least until September in the eight markets that should have coverted to the Personal People Meter by September; a ninth, Dallas, will convert to the new system in December 2008.

In a statement, Arbitron said it would work “with customers, the Media Rating Councol, other industry organizations and community groups on the research and business issues related to the Portable People Meter radio ratings service in local markets.”

Arbitron chairman/CEO and prexy Steve Morris added that the company “remained confident in the audience estimates that the Portable People Meter service is producing.”

“However, over the past three weeks, feedback from our customers, the Media Rating Council and other constituencies has led us to conclude that the radio industry would be better served if we were to delay further commercialization fo the PPM in order to address their issues,” he added.

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