Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Radio measurement tool under fire from minority stations

A small pager-like device designed to measure radio station audiences could be muffling minority radio stations.

At least, that's what minority and urban radio stations are saying. And Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is hoping to get some answers at a hearing on the matter this morning.

Arbitron, the primary radio audience measurement firm based in Columbia, Md., spent the past 15 years developing the Portable People Meter (PPM) to get a more accurate read on which stations consumers are listening to. PPMs are tiny devices meant to be worn on your belt or stashed in your purse, and they can detect which radio station you are tuning in to.

The devices, which were rolled out in 2007, are given to a sample of listeners and hundreds of hours worth of data is downloaded to get a better picture of who is listening to which radio stations at what times. PPMs replace the old method of audience measurement: asking people to keep a diary of every station they hear throughout the day. (Most people simply waited until the end of the week and tried to remember every station they listened to during the previous days.)

When PPM results started coming in, Arbitron noticed a few trends. For one, listeners actually listened to a greater variety of stations than they reported in the diaries. They also spent less time listening to their "favorite" stations and more time flipping through and lingering on other stations.
But that poses a problem for the stations with the most loyal audiences. Talk radio, Christian broadcasters and Hispanic broadcasters saw a 10-15 percent drop in listeners. Urban stations saw a 25 percent decrease.

Of course, a decline in audience size negatively impacts advertising revenues. So the PPM Coalition formed to lobby against the new measurement method.

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