Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Truth Sometimes Hurts

According to this article by Todd Shields in Bloomberg.com, The Federal Communications Commission has begun an inquiry into “whether Arbitron Inc. undercounts the audience for minority radio stations, potentially harming their advertising sales and ability to maintain programming for blacks and Hispanics.”

This is the direct result of the game changing technology developed by the Columbia headquartered company. Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM) replaces the old written diary method of audience tracking with an electronic device the size of a pager. The PPM automatically records what radio stations an individual is exposed to during the day without relying on the participants’ memory.

The initial results have been both surprising and very disconcerting to some stations. Some speculate that, under the old diary system, a diarist would often say out of a sense of loyalty that they listened to a minority or ethnic station even if they didn’t actually tune in. The PPM system doesn’t allow for that since it only counts what a person actually listened to, not what they thought perhaps they should have listened to.

Not all minority stations are displeased though. In an article entitled “Radio Ratings Device Flawed, Stations Say,” by Paul Farhi in The Washington Post last October, Radio One, “one of the nation's largest radio broadcasting companies and the largest radio broadcasting company that primarily targets African-American and urban listeners” is on board with the program.

"Anytime you adopt a new technology, there are always short-term dislocations," said Alfred C. Liggins III, chief executive of Radio One Inc., the Lanham-based company that owns 53 stations -- including WMMJ and WKYS -- that seek African American listeners. "There's going to be a learning curve. . . . But [electronic measurement] is reality. I'd much rather get reality on the road then delay, delay, delay."

Liggins said that Radio One's stations in Houston and Philadelphia initially saw a steep drop in their ratings when the meters were introduced months ago but that they have since recovered to roughly the same ranking in the market.”

When a game changing technology like this is deployed in the marketplace there are bound to be folks who claim it is unfair, particularly if it exposes their weaknesses.


Anonymous said...

The same thing happened when Arbitron first started using the old TV meters. No one would admit to watching the Gilligan's Island reruns instead of the news, but the meter recorded it.

Stations that didn't get the rating they thought they should complained about the methodology. Those that got the ratings, didn't complain.

Even better were the comparisons to Neilson. Whoever rated your station higher had the correct methodology.