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Today’s Arbitron Tirade

Here’s my favorite finding from the latest Arbitron/Edison study:

47% of respondents say they would listen to radio “a lot more” if stations had noticeably fewer commercial breaks; 44% said the same in favor of shorter commercial breaks.

In case you didn’t notice, those are two diametrically opposed alternatives. This is an example of listeners “giving the right answer” rather than the “true” one in research to express their ultimate displeasure which can be neatly summed up as follows – and get ready for this blinding insight:

Listeners don’t like commercials.

That’s right. You heard it here first. Listeners don’t like commercials.

And whenever you use words like “less” or “fewer” in association with the word “commercials” listeners will give you two thumbs up, way up. Forget the problem that shorter breaks must by definition be more numerous and longer ones will by definition be less so. Too confusing! Just give me fewer commercials!

Meanwhile we will commonly see Talk programming and morning shows like Stern’s load up on commercials – and deliver huge ratings anyway. Because while listeners don’t like commercials they like even less turning the dial away from compelling content.

The problem with Radio is that we have trained a generation of listeners to expect “more music” and no matter how we mix and jumble the spots, they tell us they want fewer interruptions and more music. Duh.

Can we please stop doing research on this idiotic topic and focus instead on issues which add tangible value to our stations instead of apologizing for our advertising-supported business model?

Arbitron concludes: “There is considerable evidence in this study that reductions in radio spots loads should lead to greater time spent listening to radio — as long as these spot load reductions are noticeable and stations inform their listeners of the changes.”

Dead wrong.

With all due respect, Arbitron may know ratings but they don’t know marketing.

Don’t give listeners a reason not to leave, give them a reason to stay.

And then Arbitron continues: “Radio stations should continue to promote the fact that they are providing free content to their listeners and that in the future, with HD radio and other advances, even more free content will be available to radio listeners.”

Again, dead wrong.

If you sell something as “free” then you’re communicating it’s worth its price. People will routinely pay for what they value and ignore that which they don’t, no matter how low the price. As Seth Godin says, what’s the right price for an anvil? Well, if you don’t need one, zero is not low enough.

We can’t sell the notion of “free.” We have to sell the notion of value. And value means content. And content provides benefits. And that’s what people find so compelling, they’ll be glued to it, no matter how many commercials we use to finance it.

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