The one thing our broadcaster from the 1940s would recognize is radio ratings. That’s because radio ratings haven’t really changed since the 1940s.
The quarter-hour, a ratings metric developed in the days of Amos and Andy, is still with us today. In an era when radio programs were in fifteen minute blocks, measuring radio listenership in quarter-hours made sense. It told radio time buyers how many people were listening to Jack Benny or Arthur Godfrey.
Today it is as anachronistic as the shows it was designed to measure. It penalizes local radio stations, and hurts radio revenues.
It is time to bury this obsolete throwback. Today the quarter-hour makes no sense. Radio long ago abandoned the fifteen minute program. Why should the metric designed to measure it live on?
Arbitron’s People Meter (hopefully) records radio exposure every minute. The PPM shows that listeners begin and end their listening at seemingly random minutes within the hour. A panelist can start listening at any moment, and stop listening just as randomly.
Under current Arbitron rules, a person who listens to a radio station from 9:11 to 9:19, actually didn’t listen at all. To be counted, there has to be at least five minutes of listening within a standard quarter-hour. Because her listening wasn’t long enough in either the first or second quarter-hour of the nine o’clock hour, the station receives no credit at all.
That’s true whether the market is measured by diary or PPM. But things are even more complicated than that.
Let’s say our listener listens from 9:00 to 9:01, again from 9:11 to 9:19, and then again from 9:28 to 9:29. If she is filling out a diary, then the station gets no credit. Zero. To be counted towards diary credit, a person has to listen at least five continuous minutes within a quarter-hour to count.
On the other hand, if the listener is carrying a meter, the station gets two quarter-hours of listening. In PPM, a listener still has to listen at least five minutes in a quarter-hour, but those minutes need not be continuous.
This is how crazy things have become. With PPM, a person can listen for a single minute in alternate minutes (for example at :01, :03, :05, :07, and :09) and the station will receive credit for one quarter-hour. However, the same pattern across quarter-hours (:11, :13, :15, :17, :19) nets the station nothing.
(You may be asking yourself why Arbitron accepts such fractured listening with PPM. The encoded audio must be “heard” to be counted. Like a distant AM signal that fades in and out, the encoded audio can fade in and out. By accepting fractured quarter-hours, Arbitron compensates for the meter’s aural limitations.)
Isn’t it time that radio abandon this convoluted counting of minutes within quarter-hours? Shouldn’t Arbitron adopt a metric that reflects the way people listen today?
At least before the Internet, all radio stations were measured using the same metric. Today we have a situation where local radio stations are measured using a 70 year old metric, while Internet radio is measured using a much more lenient metric that gives Internet services a clear advantage.
Ando Media once reported Internet listening in the same way Arbitron reports local radio listening. Then in May of last year, it eliminated Arbitron’s antiquated five minute rule. It began counting any listening over one minute.
The ratings of Ando Media’s clients exploded. Listening appeared to increase two and even three times. By counting listening less than five minutes, and counting listening across quarter-hours, TSL (time spent listening) dramatically increased.
Were Arbitron to take Ando Media’s lead and switch from a five minute rule to a one minute rule, we believe local radio would see similar increases. Radio stations would finally get credit for all the discarded minutes of listening that currently disappear.
It is time for broadcasters to demand that Arbitron move into the 21st century. It is all well and good that the company has developed a new electronic way of gathering listening information. Why does the company insist on reporting the results as if we were still in the 1940s?