Arbitron CEO Skarzynski resigns

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The chief executive of Columbia-based radio-ratings company Arbitron unexpectedly resigned Monday as questions were being raised about the truthfulness of his recent congressional testimony.

Arbitron declined to spell out the circumstances surrounding the departure of Michael P. Skarzynski as its top executive, saying only in a statement late Monday that the matter concerned an unspecified violation of corporate policy "entirely unrelated to the financial performance of the company." A spokesman declined to comment further.

Arbitron is to radio what Nielsen is to television: the dominant supplier of audience ratings to ad agencies, marketers and stations. Arbitron surveys listeners and assembles the data on which billions of dollars in advertiser decisions are based.

Skarzynski, 53, took over as chief executive almost exactly one year ago from Stephen B. Morris, who had run the company for 17 years. Although he was largely unknown in the radio business, he was considered a top technology executive, having held senior posts at Lucent and AT&T, as well as several privately held firms. Morris remained on the company's board.

Arbitron has been under pressure on several fronts. The radio industry has been hit hard by the recession at a time when Arbitron has been seeking price increases for its ratings data. It has also been rolling out a controversial new system for measuring audiences called Portable People Meters, which electronically and automatically register the listening habits of survey participants.

Arbitron says the meters are more accurate than its traditional paper diaries. But groups representing African Americans and Latinos have complained that the company has consistently shortchanged minority listeners in assembling its survey panels, thus penalizing stations that have a strong following among these listeners. Attorneys general in New York, New Jersey and Florida have sued the company to stop it from implementing the new electronic meters, which are in use in the Washington area and 36 other metropolitan areas.

Cumulus and Clear Channel dropped Arbitron last year in several markets and subscribed to a Nielsen diary-based service.

Skarzynski's resignation comes six weeks after he testified about the PPM system in a hearing before a congressional subcommittee. The panel's chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), said Monday that Skarzynski may have "intentionally misled" the panel. Congressional sources said that the resignation was related to Skarzynski's testimony and that subcommittee staff members were reviewing the transcript.

The company on Monday named Walter T. Kerr, 68, a member of its board, to replace Skarzynski.

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