NEWS18 January 2010

Making PPM pay is ‘front and centre’ of new Arbitron CEO’s plans

North America People

US— New Arbitron CEO William Kerr says the commercialisation of the firm’s portable people meter (PPM) radio audience measurement technology is his top priority.

Kerr (pictured), who was appointed to the role following the resignation of Michael Skarzynski last week, said at an investors conference: “Very critically, the successful commercialisation of PPM over the next period of time is front and centre of where we want to be as a company.”

Controversy has dogged the rollout of the technology, which has been designed to provide more accurate measurement of radio listening habits than the paper-and-pen diary method it replaces. Arbitron has faced allegations that the PPM system undercounts the audiences of minority-owned radio stations, owing to under-representation of black and Hispanic households in the PPM sample – a charge the company denies.

The claims have attracted interest from lawmakers, both at a regional level – in New York, Florida and Maryland – and federally. The US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing before Christmas to investigate the charges levelled at PPM. It was during this hearing that Kerr’s predecessor made a false statement, triggering his resignation.

Despite being in the CEO role only briefly, Kerr has already met with the PPM Coalition, a group of minority-owned broadcasters, to hear its complaints about the PPM methodology and sample.

“It’s important that people understand that I am there to listen first-hand,” he said. “There has been a public palaver on both sides that has perhaps made it difficult to reason together on some issues.”

Looking at the long-term future of the PPM technology, Kerr said that Arbitron aims to have the system commercialised and accredited by the Media Ratings Council in the top 48 US markets. Introducing the technology outside these markets, he said, was not a cost-effective solution for Arbitron or radio station owners.

Kerr also said that he would look at “leveraging the PPM panel to create new revenue sources” in the future.

In the “very short term”, Kerr said that a sudden departure such as Skarzynski’s could cause “anxiety” at an organisation, and that getting the company “settled down” would be an immediate task.