On A Wavelength Far From Home
January 27, 2012
So much of what radio does is governed by ratings that I thought a little perspective was in order. Even though we've discussed here how advertisers are increasingly looking to paying on the basis of actual product sales, responses, or clicks, audience shares are still the currency for this business, and will likely be for a while. Programming decisions are made based on numbers as well, of course, but here's a little thing I noticed that might give you pause before pulling the trigger on anything based on the numbers you see in a given month or week.
Take a look at the Middlesex-Somerset-Union numbers, market number 41, for the last couple of PPM ratings periods -- you'll find the 6+ rankings right here on All Access. Go down towards the bottom. See anything interesting or odd? I know, there are a LOT of stations listed, because it's squarely between New York and Philadelphia, with Monmouth-Ocean stations also bleeding in, but focus on the call letters... yes, there, at a 0.5 in December and a 0.3 in the Holiday phase, it's XHTY. And at a 0.3 in the Holiday phase is KWIZ. We're not talking Internet streams, but actual listening to the actual over-the-air signal.
X? K? What... how... huh?
XHTY is a Tijuana station serving the San Diego area. KWIZ is an Orange County station, Orange County being in California. I live about 30 or 40 miles away from KWIZ's tower and I can't get the station here. XHTY comes in from about 100 miles away, but not all that well. And I have lived in Middlesex and can attest to the fact that it's almost 3,000 miles from here and you can't get those signals there.
Which means, of course, that someone traveled from Central Jersey to Southern California and brought the meter with him or her. But according to the numbers, XHTY cumed 10,900 in December and 8.300 in the Holiday period in Jersey, and KWIZ cumed 13.900 in Jersey in the Holiday phase. I understand how they extrapolate numbers, but how many people could possibly a) live in New Jersey, b) have a meter, c) have traveled to Southern California in December, and d) listened to two relatively obscure and low-rated (even in their home markets) stations frequently enough and long enough to generate that kind of number? Can one person or one family do that? Apparently so.
That doesn't mean that the ratings are useless, not at all, but it DOES mean that you need to be very careful when parsing numbers as you slice the results down to dayparts and demos and days and minutes. If the total 6+ numbers can include a Tijuana station in New Jersey because a very, very small number of meter users happened to go to Southern California, imagine how reliable the sample will be when you're looking at, say, Men 25-34 for weekdays 7-midnight, let alone any particular day or by the minute. And if you're going to make decisions -- programming, marketing, buying -- based on a sliver of the information you can get out of the ratings, check the sample size before you overreact. Unless you believe that .3% of radio listening in Central Jersey is to a station you can't get in New Jersey, that is.
(Don't get me wrong, though -- I'm not saying that the meters aren't a good thing, or that they aren't the best way to measure radio listening. Far from it. It's preferable to making people try to recall their listening and writing it in a diary, for sure. And I'm not at all blaming Arbitron, because the samples are only going to be as large as someone wants to pay for. All I'm suggesting is that the results, when parsed down to the kind of microslivers that some people are looking at, or even to some dayparts in some demos, might not always entirely reflect reality)
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Have a fine weekend despite the lack of football. The Pro Bowl does not count.