Viacom splits with Arbitron after price dispute

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In a dispute over money rather than measurement, Viacom's Infinity Broadcasting has dropped ratings service Arbitron.

Infinity president-Chief Operating Officer Joel Hollander said June 24 that the radio giant would stop using Arbitron on July 16, and instead employ data from International Demographics' Media Audit in its sales efforts.

"After lengthy negotiations, it has become clear that we will be unable to reach a mutually satisfactory financial arrangement" with Arbitron, he said.

In a letter sent to media buyers, Infinity apologized "for any inconvenience" the decision might cause. Buyers expressed concern that Infinity's decision could result in more work and higher bills for ad agencies to cover the shortfall.

"It doesn't hurt Infinity that much, because agencies still subscribe, but the question is whether it will have an effect on Arbitron or on our bills?" said Cathy Crawford president-local broadcast for WPP Group's MindShare.

Thom Mocarsky, Arbitron's VP-communications, said last week that existing ad-agency agreements spell out fees and there won't be any immediate hike in fees, but declined to say whether pricing will eventually have to rise.

Arbitron said Infinity had been using its ratings information under a one-year extension of its previous contract and said Infinity's decision not to renew will cost it $12 million of its revenue the second half of this year.

There were some suggestions that the move of one of the country's biggest radio-station owners could be a negotiating ploy that could get resolved before Infinity loses access to ratings July 16.

"This is not the first time that media companies put a stake in the ground in negotiations," said Kevin Gallagher, senior VP-director of local investment group for Starcom Worldwide, who also heads the local TV and radio committee for the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

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