Arbitron delays the inevitable

Their announcement today:

Arbitron to Postpone Use of Diary Instructions for Satellite and Internet Radio Listening Live market test in 25 markets to take place in February 2006. Pending test outcome, implementation delayed to Summer 2006 at earliest. COLUMBIA, MD, November 3, 2005–Arbitron announced today that in answer to the concerns of the NAB Committee on Local Radio Audience Measurement and of the Arbitron Radio Advisory Council, it has decided to revise its plans for including new diary instructions that tell radio survey participants to record listening to Internet and/or satellite radio as well as to over-the-air radio. Arbitron originally intended to modify its diary instructions starting with the Winter 2006 survey. The current diary does not ask respondents to indicate whether they listen to radio stations over the Internet or via satellite services. The revised instructions are intended to capture and report radio listening recorded by respondents regardless of the delivery vehicle. “Our goal is to improve the quality of the research that we are delivering to our customers. Listeners, particularly those who are younger, are already telling us that they have expanded their definition of what radio is,” said Mr. Charlebois. “In addition, traditional radio broadcasters are expanding their use of new technologies to deliver content to listeners. We want to improve the diary’s ability to capture all these forms of radio. Our customers will then have a better understanding of what Americans are listening to and how they can best serve an evolving radio audience.” The revised diary instructions being tested in February 2006 are meant to clarify to respondents that listening can be to over-the-air radio, Internet and/or satellite radio. The proposed instructions would also refer to Internet and satellite radio in one of the items in the diary completion checklist. Arbitron will also include an Internet and satellite reference in the illustrated diary example.

There is no question, none whatsoever, that the current question scheme in the diary under-reports listening from alternative technologies. While it may be in the interests of the radio industry to “look the other way” for as long as possible, Arbitron can do so only at the cost of whatever credibility it continues to have among intelligent broadcasters and advertisers alike. In the interim, we can pretend that this listening doesn’t exist, but the morning-after hangover will only be that much more head-pounding.

The idea that we will have to wait one year for the ratings methodology to be less wrong than it is now is, on its face, preposterous.

By the way, in case it’s not clear to you, that which Arbitron measures is, de facto, your competition. That means, as I have often said, your station is no longer competing against radio stations. It’s competing against every bit of audio entertainment that arrives at the ear, regardless of the distribution channel.

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