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Call-Out – is it better online or on-phone?

The note below if from Jodie Renk, head of Core Call Out, one of the best known (and best – period) call-out research companies in the Radio biz and an affiliate of one of my competitors.

In Radio, we use “call-out” research to measure popularity and burn on current music – every week or two another round of calls go out and 30 or so current songs are rated. All of the biggest stations in the Country in current-oriented formats use this tool.

Core built its business on conventional telephone-based call-out. Some folks now argue that this type of research is past its prime, and online “call-out” gives a better heads-up to emerging hits.

I’m undecided. On the one hand, current music is oriented towards the more active core, exactly the folks who are more inclined to participate in online research. On the other, Radio Stations depend on MASS audiences for their ratings, thus following the “nuclear core” to wherever it goes will stick a knife in your ratings fast. Ultimately, it comes down to smart interpretation, and that’s painfully rare. Meanwhile, constant pressure from the labels conspires to incentivize stations to add more new music, which online research makes “pop” faster.

The most decisive fact, usually unmentioned, is that online call-out is much cheaper than its conventional variety. The fact that almost anything can be rationalized if it’s cheaper should surprise none of us.

So here’s Jodie’s “Myth/Fact” letter. See if you agree or disagree. And feel free to leave your comments here.

There has been a recent round of call out bashing in the media and via email newsletters. Core Call Out Research has been in the music research business for over 12 years and we welcome the dialogue! The more we all know about research methodology and applications, the more effective we can be interpreting it – but, I think it is very important to separate myth from fact. Myth 1: “It is nearly impossible to reach your average listener using traditional call out.” Facts: Telephone call out reaches the same people, using the same methodology, that Arbitron reaches. Every single one of our clients has a spread of light, medium and heavy listeners in the call out sample. Our TSL numbers are much closer to what Arbitron reports than the web based TSL that we regularly see. Food For Thought: Ultimately this myth begs the question as to who is an average listener? It requires that we think about who defines an average listener. Arbitron may not have the perfect means of measuring listening, but it is still the only measurement system that counts with advertisers. If the concern is that the average listener won’t take a phone survey due to the large number of calls that come in to the home then, let’s consider unsolicited emails as well. How many junk emails do you get and ignore each and every day? Myth 2: “Most phone call out respondents are light and medium light listeners – they do not capture the medium heavy and heavy listeners.” Facts: A good call out sample – whether phone or web based – should use a mix of P1, P2 and P3 listeners. There should also be a base percentage of core listeners. This will ensure that the light, medium and heavy listeners get included. Breaks can then be run to identify any differences in tastes. Food For Thought: Phone call out can and does give you a spread of light to heavy listeners that is very much in line with what Arbitron reports. You can see from a simple break out what the heaviest listeners are doing. Web out, on the other hand, is skewed to the heavy, core listeners. How are you going to see your casual Cume and fringe listener opinions when they aren’t in the sample? Myth 3: “Respondents are much more likely to participate in online research than in phone research.” Facts: We have been doing, and continue to do, web based research. Our experience and most studies published show that the online participation rate is abysmal, much worse than what we get by using the phone. Our phone participation rate, amongst those qualified, runs between 30 and 50% depending on format. Online, the rates run between 2 and 20%; a much worse response rate. Food For Thought: Most active web users get well over 20 unsolicited emails per day; compare that to 3-4 telemarketing calls. Also, while many homes have caller ID or call blocking, most active web users have a spam filter on their email. There are obstacles to reaching the listener either way. Myth 4: “Web based research can be just as random with select quotas.” Facts: The key terms here are “random” and “select.” Random means that every single person has an equal chance of being selected. When you miss 90% of your Cume by using the station’s email database, this is not random. Also, the term “select” is telling you that only some parts of the web based sample can be generated in a manner that meets well established research standards. Why would you want only select portions of your research be done correctly? Food For Thought: Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the majority of your sample be generated in a broad based manner with just a small portion being culled in other ways than to do the reverse? Myth 5: “Traditional call out comes from a database and is worked over and over again.” Facts: A telephone database is generated from mostly random calls into the marketplace. It is a very broad based sample and it is derived from the same source that Arbitron uses. The online database comes from the radio station’s web site almost exclusively. This is a very narrow sample. Food For Thought: Don’t kid yourself, the web database is also used over and over again. I do not know of any web based research programs that do not use respondents more than once. And, paneling is not wrong in either case Myth 6: “A Diary keeper is less and less indicative of your real audience.” Facts: There is no evidence that this is true. Even if it were, you still have to play the Arbitron game. No buyers that I know are willing to use your web based research to determine their advertising buys. This means you better be damn sure that you have a good view of the people that Arbitron reaches. Food For Thought: We come back to the discussion of who is your “real” audience. Who defines it, who measures it and how do we best impact it? Are those that listen to you as a P2 or P3 choice real? Does it seem likely that you could get too inside, too focused on the heaviest listeners and thereby miss what your competition is doing? There is an expression that you can “miss the forest for the trees.” I think only looking at the heaviest listeners may be “missing the tree for the bark!” Myth 7: “It takes up to 10 weeks to identify a hit in traditional call out.” Facts: Sometimes. And sometimes it takes web out that long too. But, I can assure you that stations like KROQ, WHQT, WXRK and KPWR have all seen “hits” in the very first week of testing a new song in call out. Food For Thought: Do we really believe that every song develops in the same manner? That each song will become a hit in the first few weeks of testing? Or, does it make sense that different types of songs will develop at different paces – based on the style of music, what else is being played at the time, what other marketing factors are influencing how the audience feels about the artist, etc. Myth 8: “Web out is being championed by experienced and neutral radio consultants.” Facts: The most vocal proponent of web based call out is also the owner of a web research company. Food For Thought: I may have a vested interest in championing phone call out – it is, after all, my business. But, Core Call Out also provides Web Out. We think there is a time and place for web out but it can only be determined with careful consideration and some acknowledgement of the broader audience that will be missed. Let’s not confuse myths and guesses for facts. Let’s not confuse a sales pitch with a “white” paper. Web out is another research tool but it is not a panacea.
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