In an earlier post we observed that Arbitron’s Infinite Dial study didn't seem designed to help radio. In this follow-up, we’ll go one step further and show that the presentation does a disservice to radio, portraying radio weaker than it is, while painting a rosy future for radio’s new-media competitors.
We have pointed out in the past that most media research ignores radio. (See here, for example.) A steady stream of television and Internet video research provides television broadcasters a clear understanding of what’s going on in the video space.
Not so with radio. The little audio research that we see is generally small self-serving projects intended to bolster one new-media segment. There are few current comprehensive studies on radio.
Arbitron could have come to radio’s aid. It could have provided radio broadcasters the same comprehensive overview of radio that Nielsen has repeatedly provided television broadcasters, but it didn’t.
If you are a broadcaster anxious to learn about where radio is headed and the challenges radio will face, you will be deeply disappointed in Arbitron’s Infinite Dial study.
Why would Arbitron put its imprinteur on a study that seems so biased towards radio’s competitors? Why would the company be party to a study that is so irrelevant to radio?
Let’s first take a look at the few radio questions.
Online Radio Audience Stable at 43 Million
The study includes a bar graph showing online radio’s seemingly inexorable growth. It is designed to exaggerate the strength of online radio. The headline boldly declares that 43 million people listen to online radio. Sounds like online radio is a big deal, doesn’t it?
Take a look at the graph up above (click to enlarge). We’ve redrawn the graph adding local radio listening to give a useful reference point. Putting the reach of local radio next to online radio paints a very different, and more realistic picture of the medium. Online listening remains a tiny sliver of radio listening.
The authors chose to call online radio stable. It’s an interesting choice of words for a medium that had been growing 30-50% a year and then suddenly stops. Shouldn’t that be the headline for a study ostensibly for radio? What does this say about the authors’ loyalties?
This is the sort of question a questionnaire manipulator designer puts in to torpedo something (in this case radio). The question is silly and the answer means nothing, but it does help cast radio in a negative light. Why not include electricity? How about garbage collection?
Given the arbitrary choices, why would we expect anything but the Internet to win? The Internet means email, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Google, and Mapquest. It is not a medium in the same way that radio, television, and newspaper are media.
While the question is meaningless, it does give new-media pundits more ammunition in their efforts to paint radio as dead.
The graph comparing 2010 to 2002 shows radio’s role plummeting along with a dramatic increase for the Internet. This is contrary to other research that shows radio with a significant lead in new music discovery.
We wanted to see the 2002 data, but the 2002 study posted on Arbitron’s web site doesn’t include the question. Where did the original numbers come from? Are we really looking at trendable numbers?
The graph shows a decline for broadcast streams and an increase in Internet-only listening. The question was supposedly asked in 2006, but like the previous question, it doesn’t appear in the results posted on Arbitron’s web site. Where did the previous data come from?
Not content to just include the meaningless “most essential” question, the authors immerse themselves even more deeply in nonsense by having participants rate 20 far-ranging services, media, and devices on an impact scale.
The question doesn’t pass the sniff test. According to the study, Twitter and YouTube are insignificant. Really?
According to the study, Satellite radio has had a more profound impact on people than AM/FM and online radio. In fact, online radio is ranked 17th out of 20 items.
Can we really measure impact? Even if we can, can we really compare the impact of such things as high-speed Internet to Twitter, or social networks to E-Readers? And aren’t people going to focus on new things, not things they grew up with?
Then there’s the fact that only users rated each item. The iPhone was the third highest “impactful” device. A radio broadcaster looking to understand what is “impactful” for the future of radio might take the iPhone’s high rank to mean that it will have a dramatic impact.
However, only 7% of the participants own an iPhone. When we take into account the small number of people who own an iPhone, it becomes clear that the iPhone’s true impact is insignificant. Even while the study headlines say just the opposite.
There are questions about local radio, and the responses are overwhelmingly positive. The problem is that they are buried in a pile of meaningless questions that are totally irrelevant to radio. As a result, the headlines regarding the study direct the spotlight away from radio, not toward it.
We did not need another study to tell us the Internet and new-media are transforming broad swaths of media consumption. What radio needs to know is how best to adjust and adapt to this transformation.
On this, the study fails miserably.
Arbitron had an opportunity to create a study that shows radio’s continuing relevancy and value. The company could have provided insights on how radio could better prepare for a digital future. It did neither.
Unfortunately, the company once again demonstrated its ambivalence towards radio. It can’t live without radio, but it certainly would like to.