CEO blown out at Arbitron as most PPM markets fail accreditation


Exactly a year after taking the post, Michael Skarzynski abruptly resigned Monday as President and CEO of Arbitron. His exit came as the company announced that the Media Rating Council (MRC) had denied accreditation to Portable People Meter (PPM) ratings in all but one additional market. But that was apparently not the reason for his ouster.

“Mr. Skarzynski and the Company’s Board together determined that he had violated a Company policy in a matter entirely unrelated to the financial performance of the Company. Accordingly, Mr. Skarzynski has submitted his resignation to the Company,” the company said in a statement after the stock market closed on Monday. A conference call with analysts is planned for Tuesday at noon.

It appears Skarzynski was ousted after questions were raised about whether he gave false testimony relating to PPM to the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at a December 2nd hearing. “Today I received information that the CEO of Arbitron, Michael Skarzynski, may have provided false testimony at a December 2, 2009 hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. As Chairman, I am committed to protecting the integrity of the Committee’s proceedings, and will review this matter to determine whether the Committee was intentionally misled and whether further action is warranted,” said a statement late Monday from the committee chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY).

Effective immediately, William Kerr has taken over as President and CEO. Kerr is also Chairman of the Board of Directors of Meredith Corporation, which owns television stations, magazines and a single radio station. He had been CEO of Meredith until July 2007 and has been a member of the Arbitron board since May 2007. Kerr is also a director of The Interpublic Group, the giant ad agency group, and two other public companies not involved in media. In addition, he is a member of the board of privately held Penton Media, a publisher of trade magazines.

“Bill’s experience as a Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of a large public media company coupled with his board memberships make him uniquely qualified to lead Arbitron. Additionally, Bill’s service as a member of Arbitron’s Board of Directors should provide a fast and effective transition into his new role,” said Philip Guarascio, Arbitron Chairman of the Board.

Meanwhile, Arbitron announced that the MRC has accredited the monthly AQH ratings data produced by PPM in one, but only one new market. That is Minneapolis-St. Paul. It joins Houston and Riverside-San Bernardino as the only three markets where PPM has MRC accreditation.

Arbitron said it has been notified that the MRC will deny accreditation to PPM services in the following local markets: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa-St. Petersburg, and Washington, DC. Further, the MRC closed without action audits for two California markets – San Francisco and San Jose – and these two markets remain unaccredited. “Arbitron will collaborate with the MRC to re-audit each of these markets in 2010,” the ratings company said.

Arbitron tried to find some hint of a silver lining in the latest dark cloud. “The Company is encouraged by the accreditation of Minneapolis-St. Paul, which further validates our Radio First methodology. The Company understands the MRC’s need to close out old audits. Arbitron believes that across all of its PPM markets it has demonstrated significant progress and ongoing commitment to improvement requested by the MRC,” it said.

Radio First refers to the phone dialing panel recruiting methodology used in all markets except Houston, which uses a more expensive address-based methodology, dating back to a subsequently scrapped attempt to establish a joint venture with The Nielsen Company.