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ARBITRON, SRI TALKS ON COMBINED NET RADIO RATINGS FALTER

By Published on .

Talks between Arbitron Co. and Statistical Research Inc. to create a combined network radio ratings service have broken down, leaving networks without a solution in their quest for upgraded research.

The rivals entered into discussions last month, under pressure from networks seeking improvements in SRI's RADAR measurement and dissatisfied with details of a proposal from Arbitron to configure its local data nationally.

"We supported [the joint idea] all along, we thought it was an interesting idea but [SRI] didn't have the same support," said an Arbitron spokesman.

SRI STAYS ON TOP

For now, Arbitron's effort to leverage its way into network ratings remains unrealized, with established SRI keeping the upper hand.

Last spring, Arbitron began talking with networks about creating a competing service. Had Arbitron created a winning proposal, SRI could have lost its radio measurement business altogether because networks said they would not support two services.

In a a sharply worded letter obtained by Ad Age, Arbitron President-CEO Steve Morris last week wrote to networks, "It has become apparent that there is too much of a difference between our companies to allow for a reasonable chance of success."

Admitting he believed Arbitron's proposal was "superior," Mr. Morris said, "it is our understanding that SRI strongly believes that the status quo, the current RADAR service, is superior to any possible combination. As a result, they have also made clear their unwillingness to enter into even a conditional commitment prior to the conclusion of time-consuming and expensive testing."

STILL ON THE TABLE

Arbitron said its previous individual offer to networks stands, but timing of the potential service would have to be renegotiated. No networks have yet responded either way to the letter, and no new proposals are planned.

During the negotiations, SRI offered to improve its RADAR service by increasing frequency and speed of reporting.

"I would expect SRI will do all they can to put as many positive things into the next contract to entice the networks to sign," said Paul Bronstein, VP-research, CBS.

The networks signed a one-year extension with SRI for service through next summer.

SRI, noted by media buyers for its superior software capabilities, also recently began beta testing a desktop version of its data for ad agencies that more easily creates customized information.

"I'm not sure anything is settled at this point," said SRI President Gale Metzger. "There is a potential upside for more effective integration of local and national data. I tend to see these discussions as a continuing dialogue."

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