The Empire Strikes Out

"Houston, we may not have a problem after all. We just signed a contract for People Meter ratings in Philadelphia and we've now returned to the Mother Ship as a big believer. Over."

"Roger, Evil Empire. Welcome back."

That's how I imagine a conversation between Unclear Channel and Arbitron Mission Control which has launched portable audience measurement in Philadelphia and is doing the same thing in Houston.

Unclear Channel has finally decided to get on board the People Meter Love Train in Philadelphia -- this after refusing to even allow Arbitron to install an encoder on their stations' signals so that more inclusive results could be had. No obligation to buy -- just "let's us encode". Up until Friday the answer was still "no encoding, no subscribing", so Arbitron went live with the portable People Meter technology without the nation's biggest broadcaster.

But something strange happened. For all the "hard ball" and lack of public support this crumbling empire was brought to its knees.

Last Thursday the initial rankers (not ratings) were made public -- without Unclear Channel stations being reported. After all, Unclear Channel wouldn't allow encoding, remember? Of course one of the market's biggest stations -- WDAS-FM (guess who owns it) was not included in the results.

Now the outrageous announcement as reported in Friday's Inside Radio online update. Suddenly Unclear Channel is clear about signing up for the People Meter in Philly. Market Manager Manuel Rodriguez is quoted as saying, "We recognize the immediate responsibility we have to do what is right for our advertisers. Encoding and subscribing is the right thing to do today in Philadelphia."

Ya Think?

you're supporting the People Meter.

you're subscribing.

All this after you've steadfastly refused to get this long overdue technology rolling. What is this epiphany about the right thing to do today? Could it be that the rankers just came out and six of your stations weren't in them? Why are you so accommodating to advertisers' wishes today when yesterday and all the days before your company was fighting implementation of the People Meter. Even backed a last minute competitor's attempt at portable ratings. Even invested some seed money in that competitor's Hail Mary attempt to stop the meter.

I don't know Rodriguez. He may be a great guy and maybe even a previous, private supporter of the People Meter. In that case he was in a tough position because his company was very clear about one thing -- no people meter. That is, until they flip-flopped on Friday.

Of course in typical Unclear Channel style, Rodriguez kind of placed the blame for their delay of the inevitable on Arbitron adding, "We would have announced this sooner, but have been waiting for a contract from Arbitron."


I'll bet Arbitron would have sent it by carrier pigeon if they had to or would have personally delivered it to Rodriguez and kissed him on the lips if necessary. Can this company not take any responsibility for its lack of vision?

Unclear Channel is now forging into the 20th Century. Note I didn't say 21st Century because The People Meter is an old idea that radio has been resisting back from the last century. It's so Nineties.

This isn't brain surgery. Subscribe today and you've finally caught up to yesterday.

The only thing still unclear is why this industry of naysayers can't find a real leader to stand up and do the right thing. Maybe they've grown fat and happy while Unclear Channel does the wrong thing for the industry its supposed to lead.

Hell, your business is slipping. The youth market has left you. You take mistaken comfort in pointing to satellite radio's trouble when satellite radio isn't your competitor. Satellite radio's competitor is WiFi (someday soon). Not you.

Following a leader like Unclear Channel that decides to take action a day after the People Meter results come out is worse than having no leader at all which is exactly the terminal problem in terrestrial radio at this moment.