ARBITRON MAY OFFER NET RATINGS;PROPOSAL PROMISES MORE FREQUENT REPORTS THAN RIVAL RADAR OFFERS

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The latest proposal from Arbitron Co. to begin tracking network radio audiences could threaten established network ratings purveyor RADAR.

Arbitron earlier this month distributed to the networks its third proposal since January to track the $426 million industry. It proposes to do much of what Statistical Research Inc.'s RADAR service does, including tracking commercial clearances.

But Arbitron also will offer more frequent, quarterly reports and an annual sample of 1 million diaries vs. 12,000 phone interviews by RADAR.

OPTIMISM OVER PLAN

Though Arbitron, which now specializes in local radio measurement, has repeatedly made proposals over the years, one network executive said: "There is an optimism it will happen this time."

WITHIN A MONTH

A decision from all parties could come within a month or so.

If Arbitron provides a winning proposal, the networks say, they won't support RADAR as well for ratings. Said a high-ranking network executive: "I don't think it's viable for both; this would be an Arbitron situation going forward with RADAR offering service until Arbitron is up and running," probably in 1998.

Westwood One Radio Net-works ruffled industry feathers at the end of March when it tried to sell its networks with Arbitron's local data. That move was rejected by most agencies but drew attention to the alternatives Arbitron had in motion.

Though support for RADAR data remains strong, networks-whose business increased just 4% in 1995, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau-are seeking increased sample sizes and greater frequency than RADAR's twice yearly reports. A few also want a single company to track local and network data.

QUESTIONS REMAIN

Still, questions about Arbitron's proposal remain, and networks will continue to negotiate, making a one-year contract extension with RADAR for 1997 possible.

RADAR itself has circulated a proposal to address some concerns.

"As of the moment, the status quo prevails," said Gale Metzger, RADAR president. "There are mixed opinions [from networks] on increasing frequency of reporting. There is a balancing act between costs and benefits."

Seeking that balance, Arbitron must create a service that the major networks-ABC Radio Networks, American Urban Radio Networks, CBS Radio Networks and Westwood One-will pay for. Syndicators are not included currently, though some in the industry want them to be.

SERIOUS ABOUT EXPANSION

"We're serious about expanding our business if it's something the networks want," said an Arbitron spokesman. "The goal here is to leverage the existing Arbitron database."

One radio network executive said: "The recall margin of error is pretty high on both [Arbitron and RADAR], therefore we need as large a sample size as possible."

A current sticking point in Arbitron's proposal is the desire for qualitative information with the ratings, something RADAR has. Ethnic data, of particular concern to American Urban Radio Networks, is provided with RADAR reports but not Arbitron diaries.

SOME QUESTIONS

"Nothing [Arbitron has] shown me so far offers the same kind of single-source qualitative profile, which is one of my big question marks, but they're working on it," said Paul Bronstein, VP-research for CBS.

Under the current proposal, Arbitron would use neighborhood block coding for such demographic information. Future proposals could include its qualitative Scarborough Research unit.

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