Arbitron’s "Sinister" People Meter Threat

The radio industry is turning into one giant joke. But it isn't so funny.

Clear Channel firing everyone in sight before Christmas.

The meaningless war against satellite radio.

HD -- or High Destructive Radio.

And now the latest comedic effort on the part of broadcasters who should know better.

The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) is asking the House Commerce Committee to launch an inquiry into Arbitron’s People Meter as a – and this is a quote so try not to laugh out loud – “sinister threat” to minority broadcasters because urban and Hispanic stations could lose listeners due to lower PPM ratings. Some lawyer also put in a request for the Commerce Committee to investigate the federally regulated Media Ratings Council.


Nothing like screaming FIRE! in a crowded theater.

These folks aren’t the only shortsighted industry executives. After all, the major radio groups – the big guys who pay Arbitron the majority of their money – have been trashing PPM for quite a while now.

Sooner of later the message will get through to media buyers and advertisers: beware of radio. Even radio doesn't trust its own ratings.

Only CBS President Dan Mason has shown leadership on People Meter. When addressing an investment banking conference the other day, Mason came up positively and squarely behind the concept of electronic ratings. He admitted Arbitron had some work to do but he left everyone with the impression that electronic ratings is a good thing for radio and a great thing for advertisers.

CBS knows radio. Mason and his team are putting on a clinic. He’s restoring brands that were devastated by his predecessor Joel Hollander and, equally important, he is talking up radio to advertisers in a meaningful way – not the quarter by quarter dribble consolidators are offering up.

I know. I know. CBS is a mega corporation and a consolidator. But it is acting like a responsible citizen of the media industry on this issue.

Don’t trash your own.

There is never a good time to speak ill about radio ratings when advertisers are listening and how could they not hear the radio industry undermining the very ratings system buyers will have to use to advertise on radio.

Back to NABOB.

They’re not playing the race card. They are playing the disgrace card.

If they win with Congress. They lose. What kind of sense does that make?

About the same as everything else radio people seem to be doing these days as they are fast becoming the Dr. Kavorkians of their industry. These folks are the first to criticize those who disagree with their stewardship and at the same time they are fighting battles that they can’t win.

And they won’t win.

They’ll just disgrace themselves and their industry.

The next year is going to be awful according to analysts, industry leaders and informed observers.

So this is one last call for sanity.

How about a new approach? Pick up the phone and call Mason. I know some of you are thinking CBS stands to benefit from the People Meter in New York – say, with WCBS-FM. True enough but look at the diary extrapolations and CBS-FM is still doing pretty fine no matter which ratings system you consult. All of radio stands to benefit.

Follow the leader on PPM.

Get out of your own way.

The bottom line is radio companies created this monster – PPM. They are the ones funding it. Falling all over themselves to sign long-term Arbitron contracts. You don’t buy a new car and then proceed to crash it to make a point.

The more effective strategy is to threaten Arbitron with financial pain. That’s something public companies understand all too well and it can be done in private. Consolidators do it all the time.

Stop signing your long-term Arbitron contracts if you don’t like how they are addressing your problems. That’s how to play hardball.

Cox’s Bob Neil has hardly ever had a nice thing to say about People Meter. His consultant Randy Kabrich is extremely vocal on this issue and Kabrich whispers in Neil’s ear (if whisper is the right word here).

So what does Cox do?

It signs a long-term Arbitron contract to support the People Meter.

That’s putting your money where your – well, choose any body part – is.

Cox is not alone. All the big companies have purchased the car -- so to speak -- and now want to crash it.

Let's get it straight. Arbitron deserves a big kick in the pants. It must be held more accountable. There is a long list of issues it must address in addition to the obvious. Arbitron comes up with a guarantee because radio clients want what they paid for, but more is at stake here.

Take the Arbitron execs in the back room and rough them up a little but – no not physically – better than that.

Tell Arbitron they will not get your business again if they don’t meet your reasonable demands in a reasonable period of time. Then stop the embarrassing bad publicity that will only hurt the radio business later.

Twist Arbitron's arm. You have all the leverage -- your business. Watch how fast Arbitron jumps on it. Empty threats and disparaging words only hurt the radio industry in the eyes of advertisers.

Mark my words.

NABOB’s investigation will get nowhere in the end.

Radio will continue to be devalued in the minds of advertisers by airing its own dirty laundry so publicly.

The People Meter rollout will resume within the year.

And the best one yet…

These loudmouth radio groups will sign their Arbitron renewals for PPM when the time comes.

It makes no sense.

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