One of the “smoking guns” radio critics have used in an effort to prove radio’s fading relevancy has been the declines in Arbitron’s American Radio Listening Trends.
We have repeatedly warned that the numbers were unreliable and proved nothing about the true trend of radio listening.
For example, in March of this year we wrote:
Nielsen's finding that 20% of listeners live in cellphone-only households and that these people spend 20% more time with radio is significant.
If this holds in other Nielsen markets, it would essentially prove our point that the apparent decline is a product of Arbitron's increasingly antiquated recruitment, and has nothing to do with a real decline in listenership.
Now Nielsen has confirmed their preliminary findings regarding the significance of cell-phone households in determining what’s actually going on with young listeners. Here’s the latest:
Based on what Nielsen calls "the most representative sample ever seen by the radio industry," Nielsen's newly-launched radio measurement service found that 18- to 34-year-olds in the 51 markets covered by this service listen to the radio 21.5 hours each week -- in line with all people age 12 and older. These and other findings were among the first data delivered to clients since Nielsen announced last year that it would measure radio.
The survey, conducted in March/April among 119,000 consumers representing a population of 14 million, found that 15% of the households in the sample were cell phone only (CPO) households, a figure that aligns with government estimates. This group, which Nielsen says has previously been left out of U.S. radio audience measurement, skews toward younger, tech-savvy consumers. Nielsen found that they tune in even more than 18- to 34-year-olds, listening to the radio 23 hours per week, with a 17.1% rating.
Lew Dickey responded to the findings this way:
By measuring the listening habits of 98% of the population instead of the 65% that we have been getting, Nielsen has dispelled many of the harmful untruths that have plagued our medium among the ad buying community," said Cumulus COO Lew Dickey. "Most notable is the notion that radio has lost its hipness and relevance among younger audiences. Nielsen's data proves that this is clearly not the case and it will clearly lead to a stronger appreciation of radio over time.
Unfortunately, this won't stop Radio's Chicken-Littles from continuing to perpetuate the myth that young listeners have abandoned radio. Study after study proves this isn't the case, but facts don't seem to matter to them.