Interview with an Arbitron Diarykeeper

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip November 8, 2005

If you could talk to someone who turned in their Arbitron diary last week, would you? I did (but only after his diary week ended). And you may not like all of what he had to say.

A resident of New England, Fred is a radio listener, but not a satellite radio subscriber. He does, however, listen to Internet radio.

The Good

Fred says he kept his diary with him and filled in his listening as it occurred. Everyone in his household got a diary and filled out their own. He doesn’t think the process of observing his behavior altered it in any way.

The Bad

While Fred listens both to terrestrial radio and to Internet radio, the vast majority of his listening is devoted to online stations.

In fact, he estimates that 90 percent of his listening is to Internet radio, only a small amount of which is to a local radio station’s stream.

Obviously, Fred is not typical. But he is a harbinger of things to come. How many atypical listeners does radio need to lose before it begins to hurt?

The Ugly

The vast majority of Fred’s listenership was to Live365. How did he record this listening? With very great difficulty.

“I tried to describe the stations by writing over the lines and across adjacent boxes,” Fred said. “[The diary was] totally unfriendly to reporting anything but conventional broadcast.”

“There should be space to report both the name and URL of the aggregator and the name and URL of the station,” Fred said.

“Arbitron has a lot of catching up to do,” Fred added.

Granted, it’s radio, not satellite and certainly not Internet, that’s paying for Arbitron. But Arbitron is in the business of measuring listening. And as exceptions like Fred become more the rule, the credibility of the Arbitron process – and the diary process in particular – will degrade from questionable to laughable. Presumably, the PPM will solve this problem. But when the problem is solved and the floodgates swing open, where will the listeners go?

And will you be ready?

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