Arbitron’s Board of Directors began the succession process three years ago for Steve Morris’ planned retirement this year, but the way the timing turned out, the outgoing CEO got to claim some major achievements in his final week before handing over the keys to the new guy. Michael Skarzynski, pictured, was introduced to Arbitron’s Wall Street followers yesterday as company officials discussed the first “Radio First” market MRC accreditation for PPM and said costs will be minimal for the PPM settlements with the Attorneys General of New York and New Jersey.
Having just come onboard, Skarzynski had little to say during the conference call, except to introduce himself to the Wall Street analysts. “I simply want to say, Steve, that I’m very pleased and honored to become part of the Arbitron team,” said the new CEO, who then thanked Morris for his leadership and Morris and the board for their support.
Skarzynski most recently served as CEO of Iptivia, a privately held performance management software company. He’s also been CEO of a public company, Performance Technologies, and two other privately held tech companies. Skarzynski served in the administration of the first President Bush as Assistant Secretary for Trade Development and Chief of Staff at the US Department of Commerce.
“I’m not going away,” noted Morris, who said he will serve as non-executive Chairman of the Board “for as long a transition period is required to ensure than Michael gets all the support that he needs – and not more.” Morris’ employment contract runs through the end of this year, and then has him providing consulting services to the company for three years at a quarterly consulting fee of $83,333. [Note: This section has been updated and corrected in a subsequent story.}
Arbitron cleared up two major lawsuits last week as it reached settlements with the Attorneys General of both New York and New Jersey, who had claimed that Portable People Meter (PPM) measurement undercounted minority listeners. “We are pleased with the outcome ofthese extremely grueling negotiations and look forward to being able to focus on executing the PPM rollout in a high-quality fashion,” said Morris.
CFO Sean Creamer noted that about $600,000 in payments related to the settlements will be reflected in Arbitron’s Q4 results and he is sticking with previous guidance that Q4 legal costs will be $4-6 million. But otherwise, he insisted that many of the changes required under the settlements were already planned, although the timetable for some has been accelerated. He also noted that Arbitron is learning as it adds markets and is getting better at building and managing panels, so there are some cost savings there. “On balance, we believe we are largely on track,” Creamer said of the company’s budget.
There has also been celebration at Arbitron because the Media Rating Council (MRC) accredited PPM in the Riverside-San Bernardino market – the first market using the “Radio First” panel recruitment methodology employed in all markets where PPM has been deployed since Houston, which uses a more expensive method developed in conjunction with Nielsen when a joint venture for radio and TV ratings was contemplated. “It is one market,” Morris said of Riverside-San Bernardino, “but we believe there is considerable significance from the fact that this is the first market to be accredited using the ‘Radio First’ methodology. It’s accreditation is specific to just that market. Other markets will be dealt with separately by the MRC. However, we’ve now established definitively that the ‘Radio First’ methodology is fully capable of accreditation and it is now a matter of execution and continuous improvement.”
RBR/TVBR observation: No doubt we’ve gained a reader as Michael Skarzynski comes into the industry and, since Steve Morris isn’t leaving, that’s a net gain for us. We look forward to talking with the new CEO when he gets settled in. There are challenges ahead – and what business doesn’t have challenges in 2009? – but the AG settlements and Riverside-San Bernardino accreditation cleared up some major issues for Steve Morris and allowed him to exit the CEO office on a high note.