RADIO RATINGS RIVALS TO OFFER JOINT SERVICE;ARBITRON, RADAR MAY ENSURE BOTH'S SURVIVAL WITH NEW PROPOSAL

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Arbitron Co.'s challenge to network radio tracker RADAR has ended in a compromise, with the rivals meeting to negotiate a combined ratings service.

Under pressure from radio networks, they huddled last week about a joint plan, and a new proposal is expected within a month.

"We've been saying from the start we're going to be in this network business one way or the other at some time, and our database is going to take us there," said Steve Morris, Arbitron president-CEO.

ONE-YEAR CONTRACTS

Dissatisfied with the details of Arbitron's plan to move into network ratings (AA, April 1) and unhappy with the frequency and sample size of Statistical Research Inc.'s RADAR reports, the radio networks continue to negotiate for better measurement. In the meantime, one-year contracts with RADAR were arranged to tide them over through June 1997.

"Arbitron doesn't have the software, which is a big part of what was rejected," said a research executive at a radio network. "They've never really accessed this `database warehouse' of theirs, never written any programs for it."

RADAR MOVING FORWARD

RADAR, by comparison, has been moving forward, rolling out advancements of its own software to media buyers this spring.

"We're optimistic" about a combined service's potential, said David Kantor, president of ABC Network Radio. "In their current proposals, both stood to lose the business."

The joint effort could save RADAR, which stood to lose its business entirely if Arbitron created a winning proposal.

One possible plan is for Arbitron diary data to be put onto RADAR's software, eliminating RADAR's phone data sampling.

"It would be a significant change for the industry to be based on diaries, which people have some [negative] feelings about," said SRI President Gale Metzger.

`1896 TECHNOLOGY'

Said David Marans, senior partner-media research at J. Walter Thompson USA, New York: "They're collecting information about a portable medium with 1896 technology."

Arbitron's Mr. Morris said the Personal Portable Meter, announced more than three years ago to eventually replace diaries, could show up soon as an "affidavit maker" for radio stations. The meter is still held back by battery limitations for personal diary keeping but could be part of a proposal.

Media buyers expressed support for a possible combination.

"We have no problem with the two radio ratings agencies joining," Mr. Marans said. "However, we believe the larger issue is to get advertisers more involved in the process so the numbers more accurately reflect buyers' needs, unlike the current situation where sellers pay most of the research cost and influence its design and implementation."

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