Lack of station data hurting network, syndication biz


RBR-TVBR First: Forever, Arbitron contracts with the networks and syndicators for the National Database (often used by syndicators, state networks, etc. instead of RADAR) have always said that you can only compile the data of stations who are subscribers to Arbitron. But apparently that was never enforced until they started cracking down in the last year or so–sending out lists and telling the networks and syndicators that were subscribing to this national data (which includes county-by county breakouts): “Here is a list of stations which are no longer subscribers. You can’t use them in the audience numbers that you’re pitching to advertisers.” 

Of course, for some of the syndicators, what would make the data basically worthless.

Word has it that it is Cumulus-related. Arbitron may be trying to put pressure on Cumulus though the syndicators since none of the Cumulus stations outside the PPM markets subscribe to Arbitron. A lot of their stations carry network and syndicated content.

Cumulus COO John Dickey tells RBR-TVBR it all amounts to extortion: “The whole issue affected the former Citadel Radio Networks before we bought it, and then us. Premiere is in the loop on it; now Dial-Global. They’ve hit everybody with this. This is Arbitron saying you cannot represent a station’s quarter hours if the stations themselves aren’t licensed—even though you’re paying us as a network and you’re buying rated information as a network. You can’t take an unlicensed station in Stockton, CA or Topeka, KS—you can’t take those quarter hours that you’re using in one of your RADAR-rated network products or any of your National network products. You can’t represent that and sell that audience unless that particular station is licensed.”

He adds, “It’s a double tax. As a network, you’re already paying for that audience estimate. And they’re making tens of millions of dollars off of the radio networks. So they already have that information and its all rolled up from the same data that they’re repackaging and selling to the operators in the markets, by in large. They’re piggybacking on all of that. So we’re paying for that already and if Saga chooses not to subscribe to Arbitron (which they are not) and Saga is taking a network product (whether Rush or somebody else) and a Premiere or a Cumulus or a Dial Global want to include that inventory, as it would, into the network spot or scatter marketplace, they’re saying you are not authorized to do it, because that particular station and operator isn’t buying Arbitron. So it is absolutely extortion at the highest level. And by the ay, all of the networks, including us, are unified in our position that legally that is not going to stand.”

Our source did not want to go on the record, but confirmed they spend a lot of money on this Arbitron data and now it is becoming more and more useless. They have to call out all of the stations that are not Arbitron subscribers. For some of the smaller syndicators, that would be virtually everyone—particularly those doing farm networks, for example.

Cumulus still has not announced what it is using for ratings, since Nielsen dropped out of the radio ratings biz. They may be doing special, custom reports for individual markets. They are Arbitron subscribers with the former Citadel stations, but we’re not sure when that contract ends. Arbitron was so secretive about that that Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey was not allowed to see the exact contracts and terms until after closing on Citadel. They could not even see it during due diligence.