Arbitron's travails with minority broadcasters over its portable people meter ratings system may finally be winding down. Following four months of dialog, Arbitron and the PPM Coalition announced the two have "settled their outstanding disputes."

The settlement was released just in time for Arbitron's first-quarter earnings call scheduled for Thursday (April 22).

For Arbitron, the settlement adds up to what could be an expensive change in methodology, adding address-based sampling and targeted in-person recruiting in order to increase minority participation in PPM panels.

Formed in 2008, the PPM Coalition members have been putting the pressure on Arbitron to better count minorities, calling on Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and state regulators to intervene. In December, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, convinced the two parties to work out an agreement.

“Undercounting minorities has plagued urban radio stations since Arbitron began using the PPM in 2007, threatening to dismantle diversity on the airwaves and the financial viability of minority targeted radio stations whose advertising revenues depend on the size of their rated audience. Now, with this agreement, I believe that minority listeners will be counted and minority owned radio stations will work more closely with Arbitron in a collaborative effort to ensure the accuracy of ratings," Towns said in a statement.

Beginning in July 2010, Arbitron will use in-person recruiting in high-density Black and Hispanic areas in the top 25 PPM markets. By the end of 2011, Arbitron will implement address-based sampling and extend in-person recruiting in all its PPM markets. The research firm also reaffirmed its previous commitment to increase PPM panel sizes by 10 percent in the 18-54 demo by mid-2011.

Arbitron also agreed to a few other initiatives including launching a new, as yet-undefined "engagement" metric in 2010 and the formation of a minority leadership council.

"We have worked with the PPMC and the MRC to design these initiatives, and we believe they will help Arbitron deliver the quality data that our customers expect. These initiatives, together with other elements, are part of a larger ongoing program by Arbitron to obtain and retain MRC accreditation. We appreciate the leadership of chairman Towns and his team for helping move this dialogue forward," said Bill Kerr, who took over as Arbitron president and CEO in January.

Representatives of the PPM Coalition including ICBC Broadcast Holdings, Univision Communications, Spanish Broadcasting System, the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, all had ready statements of praise for the pact with Arbitron.

The agreement could help Arbitron break through the logjam of the Media Rating Council. So far, only three of Arbitron's 33 PPM markets have managed to achieve accreditation. It could also help Arbitron finally ink with Univision, which has refused to sign in unaccredited markets and resolve its legal dispute with SBS.

"The MRC has been focused on seeking more in-person recruitment, meter-installation and respondent coaching, as well as improved sample distribution, in Arbitron's PPM methodology as part of our accreditation proceedings," said George Ivie, CEO and executive director of the MRC.

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