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Arbitron Forest and Trees

To simplify, Arbitron says that roughly 92% of listeners listening to what precedes a commercial break stay with that station into the break. And another high percentage of listeners stick out the entire break without switching stations.

So what does this mean?

Does it mean that listeners will listen to virtually anything without switching?

Does it mean that your station should add spots because listeners evidently love ’em?

Does it mean that there’s no such thing as a bad song because even the worst song is better than the commercials which listeners aren’t turning away from?

Taken to the obvious extreme, the logic suggests we should play whatever we want, run as many spots as we want, no matter how bad they are, because none of it matters anyway.

If you believe all that, please raise your hand.

If we assume, for a moment, that Arbitron’s number is correct, we have to keep in mind that there’s a difference between the trees and the forest.

That is, what happens in any given moment between you and your radio station is one thing. What happens over a sweep of time between you and that same station is another.

If, for example, you repeatedly piss off listeners with bad spots or too many spots or bad songs or pointless interruptions to the music or whatever, you will gain an aura of mediocrity: An aura of too many commercials or not enough music or too much clutter or whatever. And that aura will force more people to leave your station more often or push them away altogether. That’s the forest factor.

And if THAT happens, there is no “in the moment” (i.e., tree factor) test for how these folks will respond when your station plays spots. They are simply GONE from your station altogether.

Only a fool would conclude that listeners are so stupid as to be ignorant of our lapses in judgment. Only a fool would conclude that listeners would sooner tune in a station known for too many commercials and too much clutter when there’s not value enough in that station to compensate for these sins.

Arbitron’s new research result about listener behavior during spot breaks is not a license for us to be bad programmers or lazy sellers. It does, however, urge us strongly to focus on the “big picture”, the forest, and the message that forest communicates about your station.

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