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What Arbitron’s new Satellite Radio stats might really mean

From Arbitron:

The Fall 2006 survey was the first in which new instructions were provided in the diary asking respondents to indicate their listening to satellite and Internet radio in addition to AM/FM radio. Arbitron’s recent analysis revealed that the highest share of quarter hours for an individual satellite radio channel was 0.2 percent. The analysis also showed that satellite listeners are heavy listeners to radio in general including AM/FM radio. Satellite listeners spent an average of 33 hours a week with radio compared with the typical listener who listened approximately 19 hours a week to radio. Also, people who listened to satellite spent more time with AM/FM radio (14 hours) than they did with satellite radio (10 hours 45 minutes) or Internet (8 hours 15 minutes).

First, I should note that Arbitron does not do a good job of gathering listening to satellite and Internet radio. The methodology does not encourage accuracy for those media.

But that said, let’s assume these numbers are true.

What I find most interesting isn’t the shares – or lack thereof – for satellite (when the entire medium has only about 15 million radios in the marketplace, what would you possibly expect?), it’s the finding that “satellite listeners are heavy listeners to radio in general.”

Because this suggests that satellite listeners are “extreme” radio fans, not different from radio fans.

Arbitron did not report mp3 player usage among these folks (indeed, they don’t even measure it), and my own research has clearly shown that heavy mp3 player users tend to listen to as much radio as anyone else – but are less satisfied with what they hear on the radio.

The implications of all this are profound: If satellite tracks with radio as new audio entertainment and information options proliferate, then they will be on the wrong side of the trend curve as technology progresses.

Under that scenario, it would mean that, as I have long argued, the market is shifting towards options which facilitate “control” (like iPods) and away from options which provide more “choice,” but not much “control” like radio or satellite.

Anyone who thinks “choice” and “control” are the same doesn’t know the difference between 500 TV channels and a DVR.

On a separate note, Saga’s Steve Goldstein pointed out a central finding here: That satellite users tend to listen to terrestrial radio more than satellite radio.

Old and happy habits are justifiably hard to break.

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