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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tech: Getting Better Reads On Radio Audiences

One of my chief bugaboos (dating well back before this fine blog got started) is the lousy job being done in fact by audience sampling methods by the large ratings agencies such as Arbitron and Nielsen. It appears that Arbitron, who was particularly sloppy thanks to their diary method of recording audience, (a) recognized this, and (b) did something about it. The results are in:
Spanish-language stations don't dominate the Los Angeles-Orange County market as once thought, while oldies and Top 40 stations are even more popular than believed -- at least according to figures from a new radio rating system released Wednesday.

...

In July, Top 40 station KIIS-FM (102.7) ran far ahead of the field, snagging an average of 5.8% of the audience ages 12 and older, while second-place KFI-AM (640), the talk station, garnered 4.4%. In the prior rating period, KIIS was second with a 4.9% share and KFI was tied for fourth with 4%.

Meanwhile, Spanish-language pop station KLVE-FM (107.5) fell out of the top spot it held in the spring, when it captured 5.6% of the local audience, finishing in sixth place with 4%. Its sister station, regional Mexican music outlet KSCA-FM (101.9), fell from third in the spring, at 4.4%, to seventh in July, at 3.7%, where it tied with adult-contemporary KOST-FM (103.5).

...

In the diaries, listeners often marked down that they stayed tuned to their favorite stations for long blocks of time, either forgetting or not bothering to mention that they switched around here and there. That discrepancy inflated some stations' audience-share figures while undercutting others. But the increased accuracy of the Portable People Meters reveals listeners' tendency to flip around the dial, thus undercutting the audience-share claims of some stations.

The change appears to be in longevity and number of stations listened to:
"By and large, it's a more accurate way of monitoring how people truly do listen to the radio," said Bill Davis, president of Southern California Public Radio, which operates KPCC-FM (89.3). "The overall audience is actually much larger, but time spent listening is going to be less. People change the channel a lot more frequently than they did in the paper diaries."
Univision "lost" a lot of listeners, but Arbitron says these listeners weren't lost so much as they overstated their listening time in diaries.

This is all good for Arbitron, and good for radio. I expect to see this engender much more diversity; the better samplers can measure smaller audiences, the better off we'll all be, because niche programming can be and will be profitable.

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