As if on cue, in the midst of our ratings analysis, the “most trusted news in radio” inadvertently illustrated why analyzing Arbitron numbers can be so treacherous.
And how even a leading trade publication can get things so wrong.
Each year Arbitron releases Radio Today, a look at how the top formats are doing across Arbitron’s 290 markets. This is an analysis that only Arbitron can do because it is like running the Programmer’s Package combining every market in the country.
Because shares differ between PPM and diary markets, Arbitron now releases two estimates for each format, one showing how the format is doing in PPM markets, and a second for the format in diary markets.
Devoting the entire front page to Country’s performance,“the most trusted news in radio” declared:
The format ranked first among all formats in diary markets with a 14.5 but finished fourth in PPM markets with a 7.1. Put another way, Country’s average diary share is more than double its PPM share.
The statement is factually accurate, the ciphering flawless, but in the end meaningless.
A few lines later we learn the purpose of this expose' when the author asks rhetorically, “Why do some formats perform better under one ratings system than under another?”
It's perhaps a fair question, but using Radio Today Country numbers suggests that the author really doesn't understand how to go about answering the question.
Radio Today shares are calculated just like you’d do for a single market. Share is just a format’s AQH divided by the market’s AQH. To calculate a national format share, add the AQH of all the stations, then divide by the total AQH of all the markets.
But what happens when there’s no full market Country station in New York or Los Angeles? The two largest markets in the country don’t contribute any AQH to the format tally. Consequently, the format's share is much lower.
Radio Today is not designed to compare formats the way the author has tried to do.
Compounding the problems of the wayward analysis is its conclusion:
One reason why Country comes up short in PPM markets is that it often lags in cume compared to other major formats.
The analysis ignores the fact that one of radio's biggest cuming formats, CHR, also does better in diary markets. There goes that theory.
The Radio Insights analysis of Country showed that the median share for Country in PPM markets was 4.1, behind only AC and Classic Rock. More importantly, Country is one of the few formats showing significant growth.
Two-thirds of Country stations in PPM markets are ahead of where they were last year.
The bottom-line is that Country is doing quite well in PPM markets, just the opposite of what the front page story suggests.
The subtitle of Radio Today is “How America Listens to Radio.” It’s an important distinction that the author of the front page story failed to understand.
Radio Today is not a measure of the success of formats. It is a measure of what Americans are listening to.
Admittedly, ratings analysis is not easy. Most published conclusions about ratings are misleading for one reason or another. For more on the subject, check out our discussion on how to analyze ratings here.