The usage of Arbitron’s electronic portable people meter (PPM) devices in determining broadcast radio rankings emerged as a key topic during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on financial and other issues affecting the nation’s minority broadcasters. Conducted last Thursday, the hearing follows on the release of an FCC notice of inquiry that seeks comment on Arbitron’s PPM methodology and whether that system accurately depicts audience size for stations that are popular with minority audiences. While audience statistics compiled by Arbitron are used by the FCC to determine the markets in which broadcasters may co-own radio, television and newspaper facilities under the agency’s cross-ownership rules, that data also plays an important role in attracting advertising dollars to stations. Voicing concern about “the antitrust implications of Arbitron’s rating system,” committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) said he and other committee members would ask the Government Accountability Office to conduct studies on Arbitron’s PPM methodology and its effect on ad revenues. In testimony before the committee, an official of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) maintained that initial results from PPM measurements show “huge rating declines” for minority stations that have put the financial health of many such stations at risk. Accusing Arbitron of deploying a device that fails to accurately measure audience size, NABOB told the panel: “the failure of Arbitron to obtain [Media Rating Council] accreditation in 13 of the 15 markets in which it is being used calls for an investigation.” Although Media Access Project President Andrew Schwartzman agreed that Arbitron’s use of PPM technology “is a matter of legitimate concern for the FCC and this committee,” Arbitron CEO Michael Skarzynski maintained that Arbitron is working with NABOB and other PPM critics to address their concerns. Skarzynski also pointed to market difficulties and other factors that have contributed to the “precipitous decline” in ad revenue not only at minority stations but among major broadcasters such as CBS Radio and Citadel Broadcasting, which reported revenue drops of 29% and 23%, respectively, during the first quarter. Accordingly, Skarzynski told the panel that “Arbitron is working with all stakeholders in the radio industry to help radio broadcasters—especially black and Hispanic-owned broadcasters—survive and prosper in the face of this perfect storm of economic and financial challenges.”