The Myth of MP3 Fatigue and Radio’s Rebound

I feel like I’ve seen this headline running in the trades for days: “MP3 Fatigue Brings Listeners Back to Radio.”

If you actually read the articles and evaluate the numbers, you can’t help but conclude this is the wrong conclusion, not to mention a dumb one.

Here are the trends from a large Bridge Ratings study (in, I might add, only six major markets – hardly representative of anything national):

Bridge found that 12-24-year-olds spent 56 weekly quarter-hours with radio in Q4 ’05, up from 54 quarter-hours in Q4 ’04, 25-49s spent 67 quarter-hours a week with radio in Q4 ’05, up from 65 a year before, and 35-64s spent 73 quarter-hours a week with radio in the fourth quarter of last year, a bump up from 70 quarter-hours a year before.

These increases are well within what you can call “statistical wobble.” And they’re measured over so short a time it’s unlikely that there would be a trend to report even if there was a trend. The real meaning of these numbers: Nothing has changed.

The story goes on to note:

Asked why they’re listening to terrestrial radio more, “Bored with MP3” was the leading reason for 34% of 12-24-year-olds, 39% of 25-49s and 22% of 35-64s. But improved programming was also a significant factor: “New station/better radio these days” was the reason 19% of 12-24s, 26% of 25-49s and 40% of 35-64s gave for spending more time with radio, while “Seems like I’m hearing fewer commercials on radio” was the leading reason for 17% of 12-24s, 16% of 25-49s and 10% of 35-64s.

Masked here are the tiny sample sizes – For example, a very small number of 12-24’s said they were listening to radio more (according to the quarter-hour change noted above). Thus 34% of a very small number is a very, very small number and what looks like a big percentage is actually likely to be fewer bodies than in your lobby right now.

I think it’s incumbent on the radio trades (and the folks who release these numbers) to evaulate the truth of the claims surrounding such numbers and stop foisting a “what, me worry?” myth on an audience of broadcasters who would like to hear nothing more.

Deal with reality, folks, and you can react accordingly.

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