Clear Channel Being Clear Channel

The Arbitron diary system is history in Philadelphia, the first People Meter market. Philly has long been a test market for Arbitron in the development of The People Meter, a technology that should have been implemented years ago. There is no reason under the sun except for perhaps pricing that any broadcaster would choose a paper diary over this advancement. And doing ratings on the cheap was never a good investment for the industry.

You'd have to give Arbitron an A for persistence and you'd have to give Clear Channel an F for putting the radio industry's interests ahead of its own.

Clear Channel certainly has the right to reject Arbitron's new ratings system. No one can make it buy something it doesn't want to buy. But Clear Channel's refusal to allow encoding of its stations' signals in the Philadelphia market makes no sense because it hurts the other stations and the advertisers who will be looking to the results of the first People Meter ratings.

Clear Channel is also hurting itself. It won't appear in the ratings by its own actions.

An 1,100 station group certainly packs a lot of influence, but this "winner take all" attitude is in my opinion just poor sportsmanship. Better put, it's mean-spirited and unnecessary. Clear Channel is not hurt by allowing its signal to be encoded. Other companies not yet ready to sign contracts with Arbitron have allowed encoding of their stations. In other words, they may be taking a wait and see attitude about The People Meter but they are not impeding its progress.

In the end, Clear Channel, the huge consolidator that had everything going for it, is just being Clear Channel.

Never mind that it is admitting that it can't run its big radio group in the present business climate by liquidating many of its stations and taking the radio group private. Radio needed a leader when consolidation came along. Not a leader in employee firings. Not a leader in lawsuits. Not a company that plays by its own rules. That's one of the reasons radio is in the mess it is in right now. Operating with efficiencies that only Wall Street could like, it is not a growth industry in an era when many new age businesses are. It could have been. But it isn't.

If the young men who built YouTube in a garage in about two years and sold it for $1.6 million to Google had shareholders it could honestly say it was building shareholder value. A company like Clear Channel that allowed its share price to drop from the $90 range to the $20 range failed at offering shareholder value. You think they'd change their ways.

Clear Channel is unlikely to change. The fact that it is escaping from consolidation through the back door is of little solace to those careers that were lost, the audiences that eroded and the leadership the entire industry never got from its leader. Many would just like to see them go away, but they won't. The private Clear Channel will still be a large company -- still run by the people that "brung them there".

This People Meter problem is an opportunity for the radio industry to step up and do what is right without Clear Channel.

The day will come when Clear Channel will likely sneak through the back door (this is getting to be a habit with them) and sign an Arbitron People Meter contract. All the news releases will go out. Arbitron and Clear Channel will make nice.

But if the People Meter helps propel the radio industry into future -- if it helps radio at a time when it sorely needs it -- it will be no thanks to the 1,100 station gorilla some people have nicknamed "Cheap Channel".