And on and on. There’s blood in the water, and anybody who has an agenda, anyone who has something to sell to “solve” radio’s problems thinks now’s the time to take their shot.
The funny thing is that while all these self-proclaimed radio experts speak with confidence about radio’s imminent demise, no one offers any credible proof. They jump on any flimsy circumstantial evidence, and say, SEE, SEE, RADIO’S DYING!!!
We at Harker Research decided that it was time to see what was really going on with radio. What we discovered just may surprise you.
We started with Arbitron. With a virtual monopoly on radio measurement, they would be the natural first stop to see what’s happening.
Unfortunately, there’s this messy switch-over to PPM going on, and as we explained the other day, Arbitron itself says we can’t compare old diary numbers to new PPM numbers.
As we noted over a year ago:
As more markets transition to PPM, it will become even more difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about trends in radio listenership. And it couldn't come at a worse time.
So we have to look at PPM markets and diary markets separately. We have to see what’s happened in PPM markets over the past year independently from what’s happened in diary markets over the same period of time.
We also have the radio ratings published by Nielsen. Nielsen is producing audience estimates for 51 smaller markets, and they too have year to year trends we can look at.
We looked at one year trends in PPM markets, and Arbitron diary markets, along with the numbers just released by Nielsen.
To represent PPM markets, we looked at the top five PPM markets since we could compare the latest month, June 2010, to a year ago. To represent diary markets we used five markets just outside the top 50 comparing Spring 2010 to Spring 2009.
All total, it represents a large cross-section of listeners in large, medium, and small markets.
The Nielsen numbers are based on nearly 116,000 diaries covering 14 million people in 51 smaller markets. The Arbitron diary numbers are based on 11,400 diaries representing 7 million people in markets with populations around one to two million people. The PPM numbers are based on 11,000 panelists representing nearly 46 million people in the largest markets.
Each service measures the same thing, but comes up with slightly different estimates. As Arbitron has been forced to admit, PPM ratings are based on audience estimates and should not be relied on for precise accuracy or precise representativeness of a demographic or radio market.
But the same goes for their diary service as well as Nielsen. They are all estimates.
Fortunately, to determine how radio is doing, the fact that they differ is irrelevant. What is important is how each estimate has changed over the past year.
We looked at year to year changes for each service independently, and then created an average of the changes as a percent. This gave each service equal weight in the final numbers.
Not the free-fall that radio critics like to claim.
If you don’t want the details, skip to our conclusions at the end, but let’s dig a little deeper.
The simplest and most straightforward measure of radio’s health is reach. How many people are listening to radio, and is it higher or lower than before?
In the five PPM markets, 12+ reach is up nearly 3%, from 93% to 96%. In the Arbitron diary markets, reach is up slightly, from 92% to 93%. Nielsen has reach up a little over 1% to 91%. The average change is an increase of 1.6%.
So while the actual reach numbers differ, all three services show a slight increase in the proportion of people listening to radio. No free-fall there.
Time Spent Listening
Time Spent Listening (TSL) is the other thing Arbitron and Nielsen measure. (AQH is not actually measured, it is calculated from TSL and cume. We explained this in an earlier post.)
TSL has fallen in PPM markets, from 13.2 to 12.7 hours, a drop of 4%. In Arbitron diary markets, TSL is down a little over 2% to 16.7 hours. Nielsen shows TSL at 22.7 hours, a gain of 3%.
The average puts TSL at a little over 17 hours, a decline of less than a quarter-hour in the past year. Just one quarter-hour.
Of course, critics will seize on the PPM decline. If everything new-media has thrown at radio in the past year has cost radio at most a half hour, then how much of a hit has radio really taken? Not much.
While programmers pay more attention to cume, share, and TSL, the actual money rating is the Average Quarter-hour rating, a measure of on-average how many people are listening to radio.
The AQH rating in PPM markets is down a little over 2%, from 9.9 to 9.7. In Arbitron diary markets AQH stands at a 12.3 rating, off slightly. Nielsen weighs-in at an AQH rating of 16.5, an increase of 5%.
The average rating of the three services is essentially flat at 12.8, 32% higher than Arbitron’s PPM estimate.
What’s It All Mean?
Taking a step back, the picture is one of radio holding its own. About the same number of people listen to radio as they did in 2009. They listen about the same length of time as they did in 2009, maybe off a quarter-hour.
And as far as radio’s value as an advertising vehicle, the medium’s AQH rating is fractionally lower in PPM markets, mixed in diary markets, and on average about the same as it was last year.
Is this what you expected?
Probably not, given the negativity surrounding radio.
Is this consistent with the radio critics’ narrative that declares radio near death?
Not at all.
Does it confirm their insistence that there’s little time to save the medium?
In a year that Pandora doubles its registered users, Apple rolls out a 3G iPhone and iPad, and social networking goes through the roof, people are still consuming local broadcast radio pretty much at the same levels they were consuming it the year before.
We believe these numbers are the most accurate picture of radio’s health published to date. They represent a far more honest view of radio today than all the self-serving talk of new-media boosters.
The numbers are also consistent with the attitudinal studies done by credible research companies that show continued consumer interest in broadcast radio.
Of course, this analysis won’t quiet the pundits who benefit from the image of radio going down in flames. They can’t confess their duplicity in a smear campaign against radio even when confronted with the facts. They’ll just dismiss and shout down the numbers.
They need radio to be on its death-bed.
So here’s a challenge.
Come forward with your evidence that these numbers are wrong. Produce credible research that disproves the validity of the Arbitron and Nielsen numbers. Produce research that proves listeners are abandoning radio in large numbers. Then we’ll post it here for all to see and judge.
In the meantime, can we have a little less of this radio is dying rhetoric?
It is really getting old.