This time, radio groups in favor of Arbitron’s portable people meter aren’t going to sit idly by while a handful of others blast it. During Arbitron’s monthly PPM progress call with the industry Thursday (May 22), Dan Mason, president and CEO of CBS Radio came out in defense of the PPM in the wake of actions by Cox Radio, Inner City Broadcasting and Spanish Broadcasting System.
Via a limited-run print in select online radio trade publications, Cox and Inner City demanded that Arbitron achieve Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation before rolling out PPM. While Arbitron has MRC accreditation in Houston, it has been unable to achieve it in Philadelphia.
Calling his remarks “the other side of the debate,” Mason said: “MRC accreditation is not currency. Currency is the consensus between a buyer and seller that establishes itself as the currency. MRC accreditation is good, it’s a Good Housekeeping seal of approval-type thing, but it is not the currency. What we want to do at CBS, and we’ve taken the stand, we want better measurement. And we like electronic measurement because it’s the future.”
Mason also took those listening on the call through a history lesson to put the issue in perspective. “It took Scarborough [a joint venture between Arbitron and Nielsen, parent of this magazine] 10 years to receive accreditation from the MRC. Media Audit, a very fine product that we use everyday at CBS, [has] no accreditation. It’s also interesting to note that at least one of the major companies that are very much against PPM use Media Audit every day in the market.” Other examples Mason cited were Birch Ratings, which never received MRC accreditation, not to mention C3 ratings in network TV, which has been used two years in the upfront.
“When you look at all of these facts do we really want the radio industry to be behind the television industry and the outdoor industry over an accreditation fight? I think this really hurts us as an industry by putting stakes in the ground like this. Do we want MRC accreditation? Absolutely, it’s the best thing, but business still has to go on. Business still goes on in television and outdoor, as it should for radio,” Mason said.
Responding to a question about MRC accreditation toward the end of the call, Arbitron president of sales and marketing Pierre Bouvard, said: “We have been asked by some customers to delay the PPM re-start until MRC accreditation is achieved, which is something MRC prefers when you’re replacing an existing service. However, they don’t require it. In fact, waiting for it, as Dan Mason pointed out, would put radio at a competitive disadvantage. But we’re absolutely committed to the value of MRC accreditation, and we’re going to put our heads down and do whatever it takes to achieve it.”
Two other radio hot buttons surfaced on the call: posting (guaranteed audience delivery) and satellite radio.
Mason reiterated the company’s position on posting: “We are working with the Radio Advertising Bureau and with advertisers in the markets to come up with what the standard should be for that. I think the overall headline is that we have committed to post. We are going to do it; we think it is the right thing to do. It puts radio into accountability that other medium have.”
As for satellite radio, Mason said, “With regard to it being an ad-based network, I think it’s pretty much been a flop.” He cited a Sirius Satellite Radio Q4 2007 quarterly conference call that claimed $35 million in advertising revenue, which he said compared to the revenue generated by “one decent radio station in New York City.” He added, “Before satellite radio takes down radio, it has to beat one station in New York.”
Making one more point about satellite radio when queried by Bouvard about the myth that radio doesn’t work, Mason responded, “Radio touches people every day. I mean, how useful was an iPod during [Hurricane] Katrina? [Entercom’s] WWL/New Orleans was the only voice in Katrina. It’s absolutely absurd for people to say that a satellite or an iPod could ever replace the role of a local radio station.”
Following Mason’s portion of the call, Arbitron execs got down to updating the company’s PPM progress, which senior vp of sales Carol Hanley described as “slow and steady.”
“We’re not happy just by meeting benchmarks,” Bouvard said. “We now have significant policies and procedures in place that lets us control demos to a greater degree. So while 70 is our bench for Year 1 and 80 our benchmark for Year 2, our ultimate goal is 100. We want to get there, and when our new processes come on, we want to use them to drive the age cells to 100, which is our goal for 18-34.”