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What Arbitron’s new “eDiary” means for your ratings

Effective with the Winter 2007 survey, Arbitron radio survey participants in diary-based markets will have the option to use an Internet-based, electronic diary in place of the standard paper and pencil survey tool.

Says Arbitron:

Based on its tests of the electronic diary, Arbitron expects that at least one out of every twenty survey participants will chose the Internet-based option over the standard paper and pencil design. Those who do are more likely to be younger. In the Arbitron tests, the largest demographic group of eDiary keepers was between the age of 25 and 34 while the largest demographic group of paper diary keepers is between the age of 45 and 54. Also, eDiary keepers are more likely to work full-time. Arbitron’s test also show that there is no significant difference in the number of quarter hours of listening or the number of stations entered into the eDiary versus the paper diary.

What this means (among other things):

1. Arbitron says “the largest demographic group of eDiary keepers” was 25-34. But this is also a demographic group generally larger than the folks who are younger than 25. What that means – and what Arbitron does not say – is that folks UNDER 25 are probably vastly more likely to participate in ediaries than their older peers.

2. While Arbitron says “there is no significant difference in the number of quarter hours” or the “number of stations” they definitely do NOT say that the stations RECEIVING those quarter hours are the same as for the diary. I would guess that they are not. Who will differentially benefit? The kind of stations serving folks who are busier and more tech-savvy and less inclined to participate in paper diaries: Alternative, Active Rock, and AAA in particular.

3. Arbitron says response rates will improve for younger folks, but they do not say those response rates will improve equally. I would guess that younger Men – Rock listeners – would be measurably more likely to respond to the eDiary – and provide their quarter hours to a Rock station.

4. Ironically, there is no spot on the eDiary to note “e-listening.” That is, if your “call letters, dial setting, or station name” is “” the structure of the eDiary strongly discourages you from submitting this type of response. It is, effectvely, the “wrong answer” to the question. Whether or not you spent your listening there. This is foolish in this day and age, but Arbitron was evidently looking to record radio listening – not audio listening – even if it comes from your stream.

5. Filling out a bunch of spaces online and pulling down a bunch of menus is likely to require a bit more effort than the occasionally lazy action of filling out a diary and drawing a line down a page with a pencil. While the quarter hours and number of stations remains the same (says Arbitron) I’m guessing that the number of listening OCCASIONS per day will be down. Simply because it’s easier to fill out fewer rows than more rows – more listening occasions are a pain to record on the eDiary but easier to record on the paper one.

6. Fewer listening occasions will represent lower theoretical Time Spent Listening (note that Arbitron does NOT say TSL isn’t down). Thus, the new listeners you gain will provide less listening – real or recorded.

None of this is to suggest that the eDiary is bad. Not at all. In fact, I think it’s good.

But understand that a change in recording methodology will never be results-neutral.

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