Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Business

Bubba the Love Sponge says he was talking with fans, not tampering with ratings

TAMPA — Bubba the Love Sponge Clem moved Friday to have the ratings-tampering lawsuit against him thrown out of federal court, arguing that he had already been punished and Nielsen can't prove it was harmed by his actions.

Nielsen, a company that measures the popularity of radio and TV shows, sued Clem in October, alleging that the Tampa shock jock offered cash to one of its survey participants in return for listening to Clem's show more often. The company said later he had talked to four more participants, though it didn't accuse him of paying them.

Clem argued Friday that the first accusation had already been resolved: He apologized, he was suspended and Nielsen briefly stopped publishing ratings for WBRN-FM, a potentially costly and embarrassing blow for the radio station that airs his show in the Tampa Bay area.

The motion says the other cases were "stray non-fraudulent, fan-initiated contacts" — that he was just talking to fans who had reached out to him.

"That is not fraud, and Nielsen cannot make it fraud by building a nearby tower of allegations of unrelated interactions which it hopes will distract from an otherwise unsupported narrative," the motion says.

Nielsen and its attorney, Mark Ragusa, did not immediately return requests for comment.

The company has said that it was able to take the suspect data out of its survey, so its ratings figures were not affected. Clem argues that means Nielsen wasn't hurt by his behavior, even though the company has claimed $1 million in damages.

"They say in their own complaint that they nipped this in the bud," said Todd Foster, Clem's attorney.

Clem and his attorneys have asked for oral arguments on the motion, but no hearing had been set as of Friday afternoon.

Industry followers say it's rare for a radio host to be accused of tampering with ratings, much less to be sued for it. But, they say, ratings are valuable in the radio business because they're used to set advertising rates. Even a seemingly small increase could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Nielsen's accusations could spell trouble for Clem, a controversial radio host who's made headlines in the past for presiding over the slaughter of a pig on the air and for recording a sex tape of pro wrestler Hulk Hogan.

Speaking on his show Tuesday, Clem acknowledged that his future on the air was in question, and he said he wasn't sure if his show would return from a holiday break.

"It's up in the air," he said.

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