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“Relax, iPods don’t hurt Radio”

The imprecision of opinion surveys wherein listeners estimate their listening behavior – especially changes in their listening behavior – is exactly why such surveys don’t determine your station’s ratings. Instead we use diaries or meters – and even those aren’t perfect.

So when I see a research conclusion stating this: “Those who listen to digital radio platforms do not spend less time listening to AM/FM radio,” I question whether we’re reading the truth or reading a sentence which is intended to promote comfort.

The fact is that time doesn’t expand, folks. As listeners have more options for their audio entertainment time those new options will unquestionably crowd out listening to more established options. Isn’t this exactly why time spent listening (an Arbitron measure, not an opinion survey one) has declined over the past few years – especially among younger demos where such audio entertainment options are most used?

Don’t believe everything you read.

The study continues:

Fewer than 10 percent report less time with over-the-air radio specifically due to time spent with their iPod/portable MP3 player. Seventy percent of Americans age 12 and older do not own an iPod/portable MP3 player, and an additional 15 percent report the device has had no impact on radio listening. Nine percent say they are listening less to over-the-air radio due to time spent with their iPod/portable MP3 player.

Three things:

First, change always comes at the margin. So the conclusion that most folks DON’T do something obscures the obvious trend – that more folks DO do something. As the study notes: “Thirty percent of Americans age 12 and older own an iPod or other brand of portable MP3 player; this figure has risen from 22 percent in 2006 and 14 percent in 2005. More than half (54 percent) of those age 12-17 own a digital audio player.” It is inconceivable that this statistic will not impact radio listening and Arbitron’s own TSL data (along with my research data) indicate that these demos are the most at risk.

Second, listeners do not consciously consider trends in their listening so it is invalid to ask such questions and make sweeping conclusions about the impact – or lack thereof – of new audio options on radio listening. Let the results – the behaviors – speak for themselves. And those behaviors are clearly recorded in Arbitron diaries and via PPM.

Third, as I read these stats – and even if I believe in their veracity – for every two iPod owners who say they’re not listening less to radio, about one says they ARE listening less.

When mp3 player owners comprise thirty percent of the audience, that should give us all pause.

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