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Arbitron’s bad streaming policy

This recent announcement from Arbitron is a major blow to Radio’s ability to stay competitive into the future, whether you realize it or not:

Arbitron will start credit broadcast stations with listening to their Internet stream, but only in situations where the online content duplicates 100% of the on-air programming, including all commercials. This policy negates dozens of radio stations, as many Internet streams of over-the-air radio stations insert commercials on the streams to avoid paying royalties for advertisements broadcast on their AM or FM signal.

Let me explain why this is an enormous shot in our industry’s own foot.

Even now, stations continue to ask me if they should be streaming. As if the enthusiasm of their audience had anything to do with the wisdom – or not – of streaming.

What people in our industry fail to understand is this: Your station is a brand. And its brand name can sit atop different products, different streams. One reason why I’m less than excited about HD Radio is that all the capabilities of HD are available to you today in the form of multiple streams. HD Radio is a mythical and dreamy Shangri-La compared to the tools and resources that are available to you right now.

KFOG in San Francisco, for example, could have the Blues stream, the Classic KFOG stream, the All-Acoustic stream – and all would be part of the KFOG bundle of streams just as Diet Coke and Coke Classic and their various siblings are part of the Coca-Cola bundle of flavors.

In an ideal world, in fact, there would be an infinite variety and number of streams, each one customized for the individual listener – and all branded under the KFOG flag.

Arbitron’s ridiculous and highly penalizing new rule narrows the definition of your station brand to one and only one thing: That which emanates from the speakers.

Well, what happens when you want to compete with Satellite Radio? Or a world of wireless Internet choices where literally thousands of stations like yours can be easily heard.

What, fundamentally, is wrong with placing your brand across different products in a portfolio and having all of them “count” as YOU in Arbitron? As long as the advertiser message is placed in such a way as to make all the reach, frequency, and cost equations work out.

If you don’t have the freedom to compete with the Internet and Satellite on their own terms, then you don’t have the ability to compete at all.

For Arbitron not to count these various – or infinite – streams as YOURS is to disincentivize you from offering them, since they can theoretically siphon listeners from your station and thus make you worse off in the ratings – unless they’re counted as YOU.

Thanks, Arbitron, for stripping away incentives for the industry to remain competitive. Now, about that fee increase….

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