Tell a media pundit that broadcast radio is growing and you’ll be met with howling laughter. You’ll be dismissively told that everyone knows that broadcast is on the ropes, that no one listens to radio anymore.
Then insist you have proof and the laughter will turn to hostile derision. It can't be true! Yet the true picture is clear and unequivocal:
Total broadcast radio listening is growing.
As surprising as it might sound, it is true and easy to prove. It is also easy to explain why so many pundits believe the opposite.
People listen to broadcast radio stations two ways. The majority listen the traditional way, tuning to the terrestrial signal. A small but growing number of people listen to the Internet streams of these same stations.
To determine the real strength of broadcast radio, we have to combine these two audiences. Unfortunately, it turns out to be harder than you might think. The two audiences are measured by two companies and reported differently.
Terrestrial radio is measured by Arbitron. The company ranks individual terrestrial broadcast stations by share in separate distinct geographic metro areas.
Streaming radio is measured by Ando Media. The company measures streams by counting IP addresses "tuned" to the Internet streams of these same stations. The company aggregates the data across stations within groups irrespective of the location of the station or the IP address of the user.
As a result, we have national numbers for broadcast group streams, but local numbers for the broadcast signals of the individual stations that make up the broadcast streams.
For example, if you want to know how Citadel Broadcasting radio stations are doing, you can go on the Arbitron web site and find market shares for each of the company’s radio stations. Unfortunately, it won’t tell you anything about how large the company’s national audience is, and there’s no way to convert the local numbers to national numbers using the web site.
If you go on the Ando Media web site you’ll find Citadel radio station streams listed in a monthly domestic ranker as one group.
There are no publically released ratings that show how Citadel radio stations are really doing nationally taking into account both the terrestrial and streaming numbers.
The lack of publicly released national broadcast radio ratings is true for all radio groups, but more critically extends to the broadcast industry as a whole.
The absence of a single national measure of broadcast radio usage guarantees that broadcast listenership will look much weaker than it actually is. It also means that if and when listeners replace their terrestrial listening with Internet listening, the transition will be interpreted as a decline in broadcast listening.
The lack of a single national measure also allows pundits to cite faulty and fatally flawed research to support their claim that broadcast radio is in decline. Combine that with a steady stream of self-serving press releases from new media stakeholders who selectively report misleading listenership numbers, and it is easy to understand why so many people believe broadcast is declining.
Arbitron recently looked at listening trends in the largest US markets and concluded that broadcast radio listening was steady, even growing in some demographics. And that’s just looking at the terrestrial signals of broadcast stations. This is consistent with a Harker Research analysis.
Ando Media rating trends show that broadcast radio’s streaming audience is growing, nearly 20% in just the past six months.
If terrestrial broadcast listenership is at worst flat and listenership to broadcast group streams is growing, total broadcast listenership has to be growing, even if we don’t have the actual combined numbers.
The reason we need a single combined number is that it tells us how much it is growing, and gives us a useful metric to compare broadcast to pure-play Internet streaming services.
We’ve shown in previous posts that both Arbitron and Ando Media audience ratings can be converted into hours of consumption. We could use this calculation to create a national "rating" for broadcast radio if we could get both company’s cooperation.
First, we need Arbitron to publish national numbers like they once did. Prior to PPM, Arbitron published national ratings each quarter, and promised to resume once PPM was rolled out. So far, they haven’t done so.
Then we need Ando Media’s cooperation.
The company needs to publish a combined broadcast stream rating consistent with Arbitron’s so we can see how much more listening the streams adds to broadcast listening.
The streaming numbers will be incomplete because unlike Arbitron that publishes ratings of all radio stations regardless of whether they subscribe (pay money) to Arbitron, streaming services have to pay Ando Media to be included in the ratings. It means that some broadcast streams would not be included, but at least the major groups would be.
If this were done, it would quickly silence broadcast radio’s critics and new media pundits because we would then be able to see the size of broadcast’s total audience--and its lead over pure-play streaming services–even Pandora.
So it is up to Arbitron and Ando Media to collaborate and finally answer the question: How fast is broadcast radio growing?