Broadcast radio faces many challenges including a widespread impression that people have stopped listening. Radio is in a public relations funk, and the NAB’s attempted back-door deal for a cell FM chip hasn’t helped.
William Kerr, President and CEO of Arbitron, recently declared his interest in helping radio. He wants Arbitron to become an advocate for radio and increase the medium’s profile.
A good start would be to lessen Arbitron’s obsession about limiting public discussion of radio ratings.
Want to know how popular the Country Music Awards show was? Go on TV by the Numbers and you’ll find that the awards show beat its nearest competitor by 5.8 million viewers. In 18-49 adults it beat competing shows by 74%, yet still fell 11% from last year’s ratings.
Want to know how Keith Olbermann did on his return show after the suspension? His 25-54 viewership was up 50% to 426,000 viewers.
Want to know which show did better, NBC’s Today show or ABC’s Good Morning America? Go to TV Newser and you’ll discover that the Today show had 1.1 million more viewers last week. You’ll also find the 25-54 numbers, as well.
Nielsen television ratings are openly shared and discussed in the media. Arbitron ratings? Not a chance.
Try to find out how many listeners Don Imus has. You can’t.
Try to find out how many people in New York City listen to the radio. You can’t.
Try to find out how long 18-49 year old New Yorkers listen to the radio. You can’t.
Unlike Nielsen television ratings where a wide range of statistics are freely available, Arbitron ratings are secret. You can find station 12+ (6+ for PPM) full week shares on the Arbitron site, but nothing more.
Anyone who publishes rating estimates beyond total person full week shares is violating Arbitron’s fair use agreement:
Arbitron is willing to grant to newspapers and other publications that write about radio a nonexclusive license to publish a limited, newsworthy amount of copyrighted data.
In general, when writing about the standings of the radio stations in a market, only estimates for Persons 6+ in PPM-measured markets or Persons 12+ in Diary-measured markets may be published, regardless of the source of the information.
All other demographic information (Persons 25-54, Men 18-34, etc.) may only be used in a form that does not publish the actual estimate. Ranking or characterizing the data is acceptable, i.e. Station WAAA is #2 in Men 25-54.
Even an Arbitron client who pays for the ratings can’t provide a newspaper with useful ratings information beyond full week total person shares. And a reporter that uses anything other than total person full week shares is violating Arbitron’s fair use terms.
Television hosts talk about television sweeps all the time. People are very aware of Nielsen television ratings because television talks about them. You can even find articles on sweeps in general market publications.
Contrast television’s freedom to discuss Nielsen ratings to radio’s lack of freedom discussing Arbitron ratings. Talk about Arbitron on the radio and you are likely to be punished, with the dreaded below-the-line listing.
The impact of Arbitron’s secrecy is to lower radio’s profile. It contributes to radio’s invisibility.
Broadcasters needs to get consumers talking about radio in a positive way again. One thing that could help is for Arbitron to allow ratings to be openly discussed.
There are all sorts of radio rating factoids that could spur more discussion about radio.
Interest in radio ratings may not be as great as the interest in national TV ratings, but every market has a local angle to play. Morning show competitions, format battles, market to market comparisons and on and on.
People underestimate the size of radio's audience. People just assume that radio is on the ropes. Arbitron could help radio better fight back if it gave its clients more tools to counter the misconceptions.
If Arbitron wasn’t so secretive about the numbers, and wasn’t so heavy-handed towards transgressors, radio would have more powerful tools to push back on the radio is dead meme.
Radio needs to start rebuilding broadcast’s image. Freeing the public to talk about Arbitron ratings like they do Nielsen ratings would be a good place to start.