Cox President/CEO Bob Neil said pacing in April is down in mid-single digits, the rest of the quarter is following suit. He said smart management was required to navigate difficult economic waters, and said his company will continue to invest in talent, citing the recent success bringing back Bubba the Love Sponge in Tampa. He said Cox will weigh stock buybacks v. station acquisitions, and due whichever promises the most ROI. But it seemed like most everybody wanted to hear him discuss Arbitron and PPM, and he was more than happy to oblige.
He cited the unending stream of sampling problems in Philadelphia, and said further market rollouts should be halted until Philadelphia is accredited. He said problems with the inner workings of the system, the science, are what is holding things up there. He noted that broadcasters there are less than impressed, specifically mentioning complaints expressed earlier by Beasley execs.
“Honestly, I just think they’re in over their head with this,” said Neil. He said repeatedly to multiple questioners that he wants them to get the science verified before moving ahead. “If you can’t even handle Philadelphia, how the heck are you going to handle more complicated markets like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago?”
He wondered how Arbitron’s board can keep pushing for more markets instead of getting the product right, calling it “morally wrong.” He suspected that a bonus structure rewarding forward movement rather than product perfection was misguided, and lambasted attempts to excuse surveys in which some cells hit only 70%. Neil said that’s a failing grade, and 85% is a more reasonable target. He concluded that everybody wants electronic measurement to roll out, but not if it’s wrong.