New Arbitron CEO hits the ground running


Less than a week into the job, Arbitron CEO Bill Kerr was taking questions from investors Thursday in New York as the 10th annual CJS Securities “New Ideas for the New Year” investor conference. And it wasn’t the only meeting that Kerr had that day.

Asked about his view on the complaints about Portable People Meter (PPM) ratings from minority-focused radio stations, Kerr revealed that he had met that morning with key members of the PPM Coalition, which has been pressing Congress, the FCC and various state attorney generals to slap regulations on Arbitron. Kerr said the meeting was so he “could hear first hand their discussion of the areas where they had complaints and difficulties about the efficacy of the methodology and the sample.” Although he had previously been a member of the board of directors at Arbitron, now that he has the responsibility of running the company Kerr said he needs more time to make up his own mind about whether he will continue the position of his predecessor regarding minority audience measurement.

“Issues were raised this morning which were outstandingly great for me to hear first hand. It’s the kind of thing where I’m going to be doing a personal deep dive to reach my own conclusion as to how much validity there are in some of those concerns,” Kerr said. “I would say this, we have been in active efforts, certainly over the recent period, and I hope are moving towards agreement between ourselves and members of the Coalition on some steps that we both think would improve what we have in the marketplace, particularly as it relates to the sample that’s represented,” he added.

Although taking the job at Arbitron came as a surprise to him, as well as to everyone else, Kerr revealed that he had been looking to get back into an operating position. “I had reached the conclusion that having the former CEO of a company hanging around as the Chairman for three years was enough at Meredith for my successor, who is doing a really good job, and I had been contemplating some operating positions over the last couple of years. I just didn’t expect that it was going to be with a company that I had been spending some time with as a director,” he told the NYC conference.

CFO Sean Creamer was also on hand to answer questions. Asked about contract renewals with radio groups, he noted that Arbitron has relatively few major contracts up for renewal in 2010. Of those, he noted that both Regent and Citadel have recently renewed their contracts.

Asked about the challenges of his new job, Kerr said the number one challenge is dealing with the issues surrounding the commercialization of PPM and dealing with the issues raised by parties who have complaints about PPM. He also mentioned the need to get the system accredited by the Media Rating Council (MRC) and said those issues need to be addressed in a reasonable time frame – although he didn’t propose any sort of schedule.

Kerr had earlier noted that the sudden change in the top at Arbitron had obviously created some anxiety within the organization which he is dealing with. “I think that’s starting to settle down pretty well,” he declared.

RBR-TVBR observation: It appears that Kerr may have an advantage over his predecessor in coming from a media background and being comfortable dealing with people who also have the perspective of the media world, rather than a technology focus. We wait, though, to see whether being able to converse with Arbitron’s critical clients and their political allies will actually lead to an agreement on PPM.