Friday, July 17, 2009

Arbitron, Nielsen And The Radio Ratings Game

MINNEAPOLIS – On the heels of rolling out its Portable People Meter (PPM) ratings service in Hispanic-heavy Miami and four other new markets last month, minority broadcasters have turned up the heat on Arbitron. Speaking at the Conclave’s Ratings Roundup session here July 16, Gerry Boehme, executive VP of Katz Media Group, added a deeper layer to the conversation about why many ethnic radio stations show ratings declines after transitioning from Arbitron's diary service.

Acknowledging that Arbitron’s ability to adequately represent minority audiences in its ratings panels is an issue, Boehme also noted that ethnic and younger listeners tend not to participate in research studies as much as older demographics do. Compounding the problem, the PPM reports shorter listening patterns than the diary. This is especially harmful to ethnic stations, which often had the longest Time Spent Listening of all formats under the diary. And while many stations have benefited from the vastly larger cume audiences detected by the meter, Spanish language operators aren’t among them – they’re far less likely to pick up additional listening from English-speaking audiences. “This is a really tough issue and one of the most visible sampling issues in PPM,” Boehme said.

The session also opened a wider window on Nielsen’s new diary ratings service, which fielded in 51 small markets in the spring with results expected later this summer. Larger in size than Arbitron’s diary, the sticker diary is designed to collect what Nielsen Radio Audience Measurement senior client service manager Brent Lightfoot (pictured) called “buyer-graphic data.” In addition to several questions in the front of the diary about the respondent’s age range, gender, language preference, income level, education, employment status and household size, there are 21 additional lifestyle questions in the back section. Lightfoot said the sticker diary is intended to “deliver an end to end sales solution, ratings and top line qualitative information from a single source."

Stickers are included for “every reasonably listenable station in the market” and list call letters and frequency – but not station handles, such as the Wolf or Mix, although diary instructions encourage participants to write them in. Nielsen says the diaries have proven to be “easy to use, easy to edit, consistent and accurate and fair.”

But session moderator Steve Goldstein, executive VP of Saga Communications and a former member of the Arbitron Advisory Council, chided Nielsen for only testing the sticker diary “in one market, for one week in a very white-bread market.” Lightfoot defended the Lexington, Ky., pilot study, saying it returned an in-tab sample of 588 and was intended only to ensure that “all of our systems were working” and not to produce ratings currency. Nielsen is using an entirely address-based sample to reach the roughly 20% of American homes that are cell phone-only, while Arbitron’s diary service has moved to a hybrid of telephone and address based recruitment.

Goldstein also questioned launching a diary service that measures markets once a year when the media trend is instant real-time measurement. Lightfoot explained that broadcasters in small and medium markets couldn’t afford electronic measurement. "If we were to go into a large market, it would be with electronic," he said.

Meanwhile, 20 markets have transitioned to Arbitron’s metered ratings service, with 13 more on the launch pad before year-end. Dr. Ed Cohen, Arbitron VP of research policy and communication, said the PPM is helping stations improve programming with “instantaneous feedback on what the listeners are truly doing.” The meter shows “listeners don’t like clutter,” Cohen said. “Whenever the mic is open on a music station, you’re exposed. Wining music stations in PPM generally talk less and play more music, have fewer stopsets, usually two not three, and have more occasions of listening.”

But Boehme criticized Arbitron for insufficient sample sizes for the PPM: “They’re not big enough and when they get to smaller markets, they will be even more of a problem. Arbitron produces consistent ratings but uses inadequate sample sizes, and that includes its diary service.”

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