Arbitron to Measure Cross-Platform, as Core Shrinks

Since Arbitron exited the TV business 16 years ago, the research company has tried with no success to expand beyond its core radio measurement services.

Well, it’s taking another stab at diversification, announcing last week that it is forming a new cross-platform media measurement group once it completes the rollout of its portable people meters to the top 50 radio markets in 2010.

The new unit, headed by Pierre Bouvard, who was promoted to executive vp of cross-platform services from executive vp of sales, plans to leverage Arbitron’s PPM to measure audiences across TV, radio, Internet, mobile and place-based media.

“Marketers want to know what a day in the life is like,” said Brad Adgate, senior vp, director of research, Horizon Media. “They would prefer a single source, provided it’s accurate. Certainly the technology is there, but the research lags behind.”

There are plenty of reasons to expand beyond radio, which accounts for 90 percent of Arbitron’s revenue. For one, the radio industry remains mired in a deep recession. For another, The Nielsen Co. (the parent company of Mediaweek) is making inroads into radio measurement, here and abroad.

Arbitron is unlikely to go it alone, particularly if it plans to take on Nielsen. “We are obviously not a huge company, and we have limitations relative to scale. So we always are seeking opportunities to partner, to bring to market opportunities that allow us to extend our presence outside radio,” said Sean Creamer, Arbitron’s executive vp/CFO, during a recent investor conference. Arbitron declined to comment for this story.

In the past, Arbitron’s attempts to leverage the PPM relied on partnerships with other firms. Two recent ventures with Nielsen never panned out. Project Apollo, an expensive single-source measurement service, folded last year; another joint effort to use the PPM to measure local TV audiences was rejected by Nielsen in 2006.

But in Canada, Arbitron has licensed its PPM technology to researchers BBM and TNS to measure both radio and TV audiences.

Whether Arbitron intends to take on Nielsen, which has encroached on Arbitron’s business in 51 smaller radio markets, remains to be seen. Arbitron has commercialized the PPM in 20 top markets and could measure local TV stations, if those stations encoded their signals. In June, Arbitron launched ARB-TV to measure out-of-home TV viewing in local markets, a service that Nielsen abandoned after a brief effort. To date, ARB-TV has not announced any clients.