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New Arbitron study s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s the truth

There’s lots to comment on in the new Arbitron/Edison study on radio and technology, but it’s holiday time, so I’ll keep my commentary brief.

You can see the full report here.

The conclusions are summarized in pithy form here in Radio Ink, and from there I’ll quote.

And, by the way, some of my comments spring from our own research on this topic – done with a broader and more representative sample than the one Arbitron uses – and including folks who don’t listen to the radio. We haven’t published those results yet, but all things in due time.

From Radio Ink:

…None of this seems to be having a tremendous negative impact on radio, and seventy-seven percent of Americans say they expect to listen to AM and FM radio as much as they do now despite the competition from new technologies.

This is wrong, since there’s no point in asking an attitudinal question about radio listening when Arbitron possesses real honest-to-goodness behavioral data. In other words, the diaries already tell the tale. No telephone study of attitudes will do better in measuring changes in radio listening.

And what tale do those diaries tell? One of erosion, especially in TSL, and especially among the young.

Edison Media Research President Larry Rosin said, “Our research shows that regardless of the platform consumers see all these options as merely being new forms of ‘radio.’ This report provides crucial measurement on the development of radio as it is consumed in new and different ways.”

What does that mean, “merely being new forms of ‘radio.'”? If you own the radio pipes, but not the Internet ones or satellite ones, then there’s nothing “merely” about it if the listener views the latter as substitutes for the former. And that, folks, is what “new forms of ‘radio'” really means – the latter are substitutes for the former. And if that is what Larry is saying, it’s inconceivable that consumers won’t switch a portion of their listening from one kind of “radio” to another.

When it comes to HD Radio, over one third of respondents said they’re “very” or “somewhat” interested in the burgeoning service. Also, over 40 percent of satellite radio subscribers say they’re interested in HD Radio. More than one-third of respondents who were interested in HD Radio said they would be likely purchase a receiver at a $100 price point, while 58 percent were interested in the $50 range.

I’ll have much more to say on this later, but suffice it to say that this is a creative way to add the pie slices. First, nobody who is less than “very” interested in anything can be counted on to purchase something. Indeed, “over one-third of respondents say they’re ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ interested in HD Radio – and more than 60% say they’re “not very” or “not at all” interested in it. And this is based on what we are told (but not shown) is a fair description of the technology, including – presumably – its benefits. In other words, it’s intended to be a perfectly communicated message. These are, in other words, the best case responses to the product in a hypothetical sense.

I’ll leave it to you to decide this: In a nation where every household possesses five conventional radios should more than 8% of consumers be “very interested” in what is being represented as the future of that technology?

A final point about the HD question that was researched here: It’s the wrong one.

HD Radio, like all technologies, does not live in a vacuum. It is a functional replacement for another device in your home, office, or car. Namely, your conventional radio. In other words, this is a tradeoff decision – the new radio vs. your current one. Just as the new iPod you’re contemplating needs to be measured against your current one or the new TV against your current one. THIS is how people make choices in the real world, but this Arbitron study ignores that.

And if you ignore the real world, you will arrive at the wrong conclusions.

I may have more to say on all this later – or not. But for now, it’s Good Friday. Happy Easter to all.

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