Arbitron Fly-In Comments

From Julian Breen, former VP Greater Media, via Jaye Albright’s blog:

The Arbitron people spent a lot of time selling the PPM’s capability of producing minute-by-minute data. They say program directors want it. However, we all know the people who sign the checks– general managers and the like — are scared to death of it.

My take: While minute-by-minute data would be an excellent research and programming tool (and likely put some of the radio research companies out of business as Arbitron scarfs up the dollars they now earn), it’s potential impact on radio revenue is substantial and scary. If it exists, there’s no practical way to keep minute-by- minute data out of the sell-buy arena any more than we have been successful in preventing people from selling and buying based on Arbitrends or even extrapolations of Arbitrends. As Steve [Goldstein] pointed out in his excellent opening talk, "granularity [of the published PPM audience estimates] is the genie in the bottle."

I’ll leave aside the impact of so-called "granular" data on the selling and buying process. All I can say is the TV world has had "granular" level data for some time, so I don’t understand where all the mystery is. For my part, I have never read a single article in any mainstream publication which discusses what happens to ratings moment-by-moment during a nationally televised program. So what’s the deal?

I really want to address the notion that "granular" data will put research companies out of business. Maybe this is true – and if so, Radio will get everything it deserves in return. But I think it’s false.

I think there’s a reason why TV viewers can evaluate every single program on the tube moment-by-moment and still flood that same tube with mediocrity and ratings losers every night of the week.

There’s a reason why "granular" analysis doesn’t add up to strong programming in the world of television.

And those reasons amount to this: Great programming – in any medium – is not a moment-by-moment process. It’s a global process involving mood and feelings and history and familiarity and alternatives and passions. It’s about the overall power of the brand. It’s holistic. And there’s nothing in the least holistic about "granular" data. That’s why any intelligent user of research will not stop doing their homework no matter how many grains of data sand sift through Arbitron’s hourglass.

So I urge you not to be taken in by the snake-oil sellers at Arbitron who argue they’re giving this to you because it’s "what you want." Indeed, selling it is what they want.

As anyone engaged in a 12-step program knows, sometimes the most seductive wants will almost kill you.

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