The quicksand of Internet streaming

Here’s a letter from one concerned reader, whom I’ll keep anonymous:

Mark, Are you concerned that if the “Internet” box is placed on a diary, stations that benefit from streaming would potentially lose reported quarter hours? In the spring ’07 book, [our station] lost credit for over 100 quarter hours because diary keepers wrote down “[our station] online” or some variation of that. In a perfect world, we’d be able to simulcast our spots and receive full credit for online listening. Just curious about your thoughts on this, as it’s been discussed much here.

Ah, yes, the quicksand. It seems you’re focused on the wrong “perfect world.”

Yes, your station definitely would lose more quarter-hours to the Net. But is the purpose of Arbitron to minimize accuracy or to maximize it? Will agencies support a methodology that is deliberately and obviously skewed?

Here’s my feeling, radical though it may be:

If the radio industry and the agencies who are our clients can’t figure out a deal with AFTRA that adequately allows stations to simulcast 100 percent of the time (which is the only way you can’t lose Arbitron credit by streaming), then we should proceed to plan B:

We should consider the Internet stream to be the equivalent of “a second radio station.” Every listener who turns off the radio and turns on the stream has a real dollar value. There is a tangible loss to the station. The net revenue to be gained from the stream must be equal to or greater than the loss of that listener from the air.

Period.

For us to handicap the measurement system only forestalls the inevitable. Because if listeners want to listen online, they will simply listen to someone other than you. The direction and momentum of the trend is clear.

In essence, Arbitron ratings should not matter at all for your stream. You can count the heads and measure the analytics directly – you do not need Arbitron there.

Now, when you consider your stream a separate radio station with its own financial imperative, there are implications. For example, why limit your stream to the one which matches your station? Why not leverage your brand’s marketing power and branch into other related or compatible formats? Why not offer customization options so listeners can get the flavor of your brand they prefer? Why not offer streaming alternatives to your competitor?

As an industry we have been thinking about our new media strategy as a means for expanding our on-air programming. That is wrong. Our new media strategy should be a means for expanding our audience, their traffic, and their engagement.

Our audience, not our programming.

Because that can be monetized.

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