A New York nel mese di Ottobre Arbitron, l’Audiradio americana, ha introdotto un nuovo sistema per misurare l’audience delle stazioni radio. A differenza del sistema attuale, basato sulla compilazione di un diario di ascolto, il Portable People Meter è uno scatolotto elettronico da portare alla cintura. La scatola riconosce dei segnali audio sotto la soglia dell’udibilità codificati da uno speciale encoder incorporato nell’impianto emittente, registrando così le abitudini di ascolto di chi indossa l’apparecchio. Il sistema verrà gradualmente installato nei primi 50 mercati radiofonici USA entro il 2010.
Come scrive il Wall Street Journal il sistema funziona. Ma produce risultati molto diversi dai precedenti diari. Nel radio market di Philadelphia, dove il PPM è stato sperimentato per primo, le stazioni sono state costrette a modificare il costo delle inserzioni pubblicitarie sulla base delle nuove classifiche di audience. Il sistema può misurare altre fonti audio, televisione compresa. Chissà che cosa accadrebbe se fosse importato qui in Europa?
New Way to Count Listeners Shakes Up Radio
Arbitron’s Electronic Meters Beat Diaries for Accuracy;
Philly Stations Cut Ad Rates
By SARAH MCBRIDE
September 6, 2007
Philadelphia radio listeners started hearing less Marc Anthony and more Modest Mouse in May, when WRFF 104.5 flipped to alternative rock from a Spanish-language format called Rumba. The Clear Channel Communications Inc. station made the change after a new electronic method of measuring radio audiences showed rock music is more popular in Philadelphia than older, diary-based measurements had indicated.
The switch shows how much power the new ratings system may have to shake up radio. For years, Arbitron Inc. has measured radio ratings based on paper diaries filled out by listeners. But it’s now in the early stages of moving to a new electronic system, called the Portable People Meter. Already in use in Philadelphia and Houston, the system will be rolled out more widely soon.
The People Meter, a pager-sized device that automatically registers what radio station survey participants are listening to, is already yielding more specific — and, in some cases, surprising — data. The results from the first two markets indicate that people flip among stations more frequently than they say, that men listen to significantly more radio than women and that employed people listen a lot more than people who don’t work. While the diary system pointed to some of these findings, it typically missed how broad they are.
In the markets that have switched to the electronic ratings, rock and classic rock rank higher than before, while hip-hop and other urban music generally don’t stack up as well. Perhaps most important, radio stations typically pull in a bigger audience than they thought, but that audience spends less time listening to them.
New York will begin using the electronic measurements in October, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago early next year. By the end of 2008, the system is expected to be in use in all of the Top 10 markets.
Arbitron cites several reasons for the differences in the two systems’ findings. First, the sample size used for the People Meter dwarfs that used for the diaries. In Philadelphia, about 380 people reported results during any given day under the diary system, compared with a goal of about 1,530 for the People Meter.
The company also says people who record in diaries tend to report their habitual behavior — listing shows they often listen to, for example — rather than their actual behavior. Thus, a diary participant who said he or she listened to Rush Limbaugh every day might now be found by the People Meter to change stations more than the diary showed.
Another insight is the role that appealing to employed people — who tend to listen to a lot of radio while commuting or on the job — can play in boosting a station’s ratings. In Philadelphia and Houston, where men make up a sizable majority of the work force in key age groups, rock stations are ranked higher than they were using the diary system.
That situation won’t necessarily be replicated in cities where women make up a bigger chunk of the work force, though. “We’re going to see very different results based on the makeup of the market,” says Arbitron’s John Snyder, vice president for People Meter implementation.
Some groups aren’t tracking well under the People Meter, particularly younger people, who often forget to carry it. And because African-Americans tend to listen to more radio than most other groups and because more listening hours lead to more rounding up in the diaries, the more accurate People Meters are hitting the rankings of some urban stations.
The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters is putting pressure on Arbitron to improve the measurement of young urban listeners. Arbitron says it’s working with the group to address the issue, noting that finding enough young listeners was also a challenge with the diaries.
The situation isn’t unlike what happened when Nielsen introduced its own People Meter to measure local-television viewing a few years ago. (The Nielsen and Arbitron devices work very differently, despite the shared name.) Television companies such as News Corp.’s Fox were incensed that the rankings for some of their minority-oriented shows had declined.
Lower radio ratings are already hitting stations in their pocketbooks. Mary Meder, president of advertising buyer Harmelin Media Inc. in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., says some stations have already been forced to cut rates because of their decline in the rankings. Some radio advertisers are holding back from buying more ads in Philadelphia until they see what happens with rates in the New York market when the People Meter rolls out there.
But Ms. Meder says that many stations will ultimately be able to raise rates simply because advertisers trust the electronic ratings far more than the diary-based ones. “We think it’s a positive thing for radio in the long run,” she says. Ms. Meder saw a similar pattern play out in rates when Nielsen started measuring the Philadelphia television market electronically in 2005.
“Radio is now on the same level playing field as top TV stations and the Philadelphia Inquirer,” says John Fullam, Philadelphia market manager for Greater Media Inc. His classic rock station, 102.9 WMGK, rose to No. 2 among 25-54-year-olds when the People Meter was used, up from No. 9. “It’s really given us an opportunity to go visit with some [advertisers] we’ve not been doing business with before,” he says.
Some events may end up commanding considerably higher rates than they do now. For example, while the diary system showed that CBS Corp.’s WPHT 1210 AM won more listeners during baseball season when it aired Phillies games, it seems to have underreported the spike. The diaries showed the station had an average of 412,300 weekly listeners during baseball season; the People Meter shows the number is closer to 744,500. The meter also shows a level of detail the diaries couldn’t match, such as the fact that daytime games get about 60,000 more radio listeners than nighttime ones, when fans typically prefer to watch them on television.
Potentially, these tidbits could affect rates for advertising spots. For Phillies games, the spots are mostly sold by the team, which doesn’t yet subscribe to Arbitron data. Rob MacPherson, director of corporate partnerships for the Phillies, says rates have moved higher already, but it is more a function of the team’s strong season than results for the People Meter. The team is working on cutting a deal with Arbitron so it can tout the data to prospective advertisers in time for next year’s season.
Previously, “the emotionalism is what drove advertisers to the [game] broadcasts,” says Mason Meyer, manager of custom research at Arbitron. “Now, you have the information.”