Friday, April 19, 2013

HoCo Losing Corporate HQ

On Tuesday shareholders of Columbia based Arbitron voted overwhelming in favor of being acquired by New York based Nielsen, combining the dominant radio rating service with the dominant television rating service. If the deal passes muster with the antitrust cops, the television guys will win and HoCo will lose a major corporate headquarters. According to this story by Gary Haber in the Baltimore Business Journal the radio ratings company “is one of the largest employers in Howard County. It employs about 860 people in the Baltimore area, out of a U.S. workforce of about 1,000.”

The ratings business is struggling to keep up with tech savvy consumers. In an article entitled “The Nielsen Family is Dead” in Wired, Tom Vanderbilt writes that “Nielsen and others have been scrambling to generate a new kind of TV rating, one that takes into account all of the activity that occurs on screens other than a television.”

“Since the 1970s, television has been ruled by the Nielsen Family—25,000 households whose TV habits collectively provide a statistical snapshot of a nation’s viewing behavior. Over the years, the Nielsen rating has been tweaked, but it still serves one fundamental purpose: to gauge how many people are watching a given show on a conventional television set. But that’s not how we watch any more. Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Roku, iTunes, smartphone, tablet—none of these platforms or devices are reflected in the Nielsen rating. (In February Nielsen announced that this fall it would finally begin including Internet streaming to TV sets in its ratings.)”

Arbitron has been trying to keep up as well. In 2005 they began rolling out the Portable People Meter which was meant to phase out its dependence on diaries. Four years later they encountered some unanticipated regulatory blow back.

Change may be constant but it can also be unpredictable.
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