America's largest radio company Clear Channel Communications and audience ratings service Arbitron could soon come to blows over the latter's introduction of its electronic measurement system.

Clear Channel, with its 1,200 radio stations across the US, accounts for 19% of Arbitron's revenue - a huge loss if it were to take its business elsewhere.

But the radio giant is deeply unhappy at the ratings service's proposals for its People Meter, a small device worn by listeners that automatically detects what stations to which they are tuned and beams the data to the number crunchers.

The People Meter will replace the antediluvian paper diary system and, claims Arbitron, provide more accurate information. It says the technology is cutting-edge and the industry has much to gain by adopting it as soon as possible.

Avers Pierre Bouvard, president, sales and marketing: "It's ready to go. We're just waiting on [industry] accreditation."

But the system is more expensive than the diaries - in some cases radio companies will have to pay up to 65% extra. Consequently, Clear Channel has partnered three US radio station owners to test an alternative to Arbitron's offering [WAMN: 21-Mar-06].

There are two possible contenders: the German GfK and its units Eurisko and MRI; while Houston-headquartered Media Audit is working with Paris-based Ipsos on a cellphone-based Smart Phone which, it is claimed, would cost only 15% more than Arbitron's existing diaries.

The New York research firm does, however, have the advantage that its People Meter is very much further down the hugely expensive testing route, and has already wooed CBS Radio with its potential charms [WAMN: 22-May-06].

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff