Arbitron To Battle Nielsen, Restart PPMs

Michael Skarzynski Speaking just a month after he became CEO, Arbitron's Michael Skarzynski said the company would battle aggressively to reclaim business lost to Nielsen and prevent any further defections.

"I want to assure our shareholders that Arbitron is taking appropriate actions to compete against Nielsen," Skarzynski said on a call with investors.

In November, Nielsen took a swipe at Arbitron's long-held dominance in the radio measurement business with a new service in diary markets. Operator Cumulus signed on in 50 markets, while Clear Channel did so in 17 of those markets.

Arbitron said Tuesday that the lost business will cost it $5 million in revenue this year. But it will continue to offer ratings in those markets; Skarzynski said "we intend to win back" the two contracts.

Skarzynski, who joined in January as president-CEO, comes to Arbitron at a time when the company is facing the new Nielsen challenge and the prospect that some struggling radio companies may go bankrupt, close stations or stop paying for ratings as cost-cutting measures.



But on his first call to announce results to investors--in this case for the 2008 fourth quarter and full year--Skarzynski sounded a bellicose tone vis-à-vis Nielsen.

"Arbitron takes extremely seriously the entry by Nielsen into our core business of radio ratings," he said. "Nielsen is a formidable competitor with significant resources. Arbitron has faced marketplace challenges in the past, and we are working to maintain our leadership role in the radio ratings marketplace."

Arbitron has suffered over the last year as its Portable People Meter (PPM) measurement service was put on hiatus for nine months. But the service is now online in 14 markets, and Arbitron said it will add 19 more markets in 2009.

The restart of the PPMs helped yield a 9% increase in revenues (to $369 million) for all of 2008, the company said. Last year, PPMs were put in play in 12 new markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. PPMs in two markets have received accreditation from the Media Rating Council, and the company said it is committed to receiving that approval in each market.

As Arbitron rolls out PPMs in large markets, it said it will continue to upgrade its measurement capabilities in the smaller or so-called diary markets where Nielsen is now competing. It is adding "cell-phone-only households" to its samples and trying to improve data for 18- to-34-year-olds.

Skarzynski provided signs that he intends to be an activist CEO, saying he will interface with major clients himself and encourage his executive staff to do so, too.

"My personal objective and commitment is to create a fresh start at Arbitron and change Arbitron's culture and outbound focus, so that customers view Arbitron as a partner. I want customers to regard Arbitron as an asset and not simply as a tool."

Next story loading loading..