CBS' Poltrack Backs Nielsen-Arbitron Deal

When a company is eager for FTC approval of a proposed acquisition, it’s a relief when a leading customer comes out in favor of it. Nielsen has to take heart from CBS's top researcher David Poltrack supporting its proposed purchase of Arbitron.

An E.F. Hutton in media research, Poltrack principally backs the deal, feeling it could boost ad sales at CBS’ radio business. The oft-overshadowed division operates close to 130 stations in nearly 30 markets.

“One of our major initiatives is to get radio the recognition it deserves … we see the merger of Nielsen and Arbitron as going a long way to accomplishing that goal,” Poltrack said in an interview at the ARF conference in New York.

Poltrack, CBS’ Chief Research Officer, said the network continues to work closely with Nielsen on a variety of innovations in media mix modeling, single-source measurement and making big data work in a digital world. Melding Arbitron with Nielsen could speed the inclusion of radio data into those efforts, increasing the medium’s visibility among media planners.

“Now to be able to bring our radio assets into that conversation is something we always wanted to do,” Poltrack said.

Radio, where Arbitron forms the currency, has recently taken a higher-profile role at CBS with the launch of a 24/7 sports network earlier this year. But the unit has faced some bumps, with revenues down 2% last year.

The FTC continues to evaluate the deal valued at well over $1 billion and is taking the views of CBS and media entities from all precincts into account. One potential FTC concern is whether an Arbitron acquisition might slow the pace of innovation in the fledging and critical area of cross-platform measurement.

Arbitron has been involved in several initiatives there , and a Nielsen combination would take one competitor out of the market. But Poltrack said indications are a bolstered Nielsen will continue to substantially pursue solutions.

“Right now, Arbitron is an innovator,” he said. “We’re assuming that work is going to continue.”

(Arbitron and Nielsen have already worked together on one single-source project, where the aim was to measure how ads on Clear Channel radio properties impacted sales of a Dove deodorant product. Billed as the first single-source research with radio, Arbitron provided the radio data that was combined with purchase information from Nielsen Catalina Solutions -- a Nielsen joint venture.)

Poltrack declined to comment specifically on the impact a Nielsen merger might have on a five-platform measurement initiative Arbitron and comScore have been conducting jointly for ESPN. Radio is included in Project Blueprint along with TV, PCs, smartphones and tablets.

In theory, the project could wither away by the time a Nielsen-Arbitron deal were cleared. ESPN has exclusive rights to the research until mid-summer. Then, Arbitron and comScore will presumably look to sell it to other entities. ESPN would be expected to continue as a client, but without others it could become cost-prohibitive.

CBS would be a potential Blueprint customer as would Univision, with its TV and radio assets. ESPN and Univision have declined comment on the Arbitron deal.

In the nascent space, Arbitron doesn’t make money on its cross-platform initiatives. By one metric, it invested $13.4 million last year on its cross-platform and mobile measurement operations, with revenue at $3.2 million. (That was up from $1.5 million in 2011). If cross-platform measurement were more advanced and Arbitron was thriving, that might give regulators considerable pause to greenlight a Nielsen combination.

Another concern the FTC may have is the potential for an enlarged Nielsen to bundle services, increasing the costs of radio data for CBS. Poltrack, though, shrugged off the threat. (Nielsen CEO David Calhoun said in December there won’t be any “cross-selling.”)

Referring to Arbitron as the only player in radio and Nielsen dominating TV, Poltrack mused that “we’re clearly with two monopolies” now, so will a single monopoly really make much difference? Besides, he said: “We’re big boys. We can handle the negotiations.”


2 comments about "CBS' Poltrack Backs Nielsen-Arbitron Deal".
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  1. Walter Sabo from SABO media, June 11, 2013 at 4:32 p.m.

    It doesn't really matter if he backs the deal or not. It's done.

  2. Walter Sabo from SABO media, June 11, 2013 at 4:42 p.m.

    """CBS would be a potential Blueprint customer as would Univision, with its TV and radio assets. """

    Could we stop calling the assets and start calling them stations?

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