Come next month the first-ever ratings book will be issued by Arbitron for the new Salina-Manhattan, KS metro, unless the FCC grants a request by Manhattan Broadcasting Company to block Arbitron and Morris Communications from issuing those ratings. Attorney Richard Zaragoza of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pitman LLP, representing Manhattan Broadcasting, acknowledges that he is plowing new ground. So, does the FCC even have any authority to intervene? “I think they do,” he told RBR. He notes that the Commission is currently very focused on the effects of consolidation and Zaragoza says a single broadcaster being able to dominate Arbitron ratings “can translate into enormous clout.”
Manhattan Broadcasting, headed by President and CEO Richard Wartell, claims that Morris hatched the Salina-Manhattan metro plan without Arbitron consulting any of the other stations in the proposed metro, many of which already subscribe to Arbitron’s county data. Wartell complains that the new metro is contrived, joining cities 67 miles apart with no commonality so that Morris can “cream-skim regional and national advertising dollars.” He says the eight-county market was crafted to exclude two counties immediately adjacent to Manhattan, where his stations are strongest, to ensure that Morris’ stations will always dominate the ratings and be able to go to advertisers and “show them the industry standard [Arbitron].” The complaint filed with the FCC also charges that Morris Communications VP Michael Osterhout, who heads the company’s radio division, abused his position on the Arbitron Radio Advisory Council to push through the metro designed to favor his company.
Osterhout declined to comment and referred RBR to his company’s lawyer, James Bayes of Wiley Rein & Fielding, who said he was not yet ready to comment on the matter. RBR also sought comment from Arbitron, but none was forthcoming on Thursday.