Chasing Arbitron’s Tail

Tom Taylor reports in his newsletter that Arbitron will soon expand to 50 the number of cities measured by the Purple People Meter:

Charlotte and Orlando see their first official “currency” books tomorrow. Also due between now and Monday – Columbus, Milwaukee, Austin, Indianapolis, Providence, Norfolk, Raleigh and Nashville. Five more markets go PPM in December – and that’s it. Not a peep from Arbitron about expanding past the top 50. That leaves 250 markets still measured by the diary, markets where Arbitron must defend against #1, Nielsen, #2, Eastlan Ratings, and perhaps most threatening, #3, Bench-sitters. Saga’s apparently a bench-sitter in not only the PPM markets such as Milwaukee, Norfolk and Columbus, but also in its smaller diary-measured markets. NextMedia’s Jeff Dinetz told a Conclave panel this Summer that he doesn’t feel comfortable saying that the PPM (which he’s got in San Jose) is great, but so is the diary. In Myrtle Beach, NextMedia worked with Coastal Carolina College to produce some kind of quantitative tool useful in selling – something that’s also more affordable. In the meantime, Arbitron’s holding more local-market sessions in places like Nashville, to explain the PPM.

The biggest criticism of the PPM is the size of the sampling. In Austin, for instance, with a greater metropolitan area of more than 1.4 million people, the new system was installed with 780 respondents. Nothing has been said about the makeup of the group, though if it is to be representative within that tiny sample, as is the company’s stated goal, then nearly half would be non-white meter-ites (with a good 20 percent in cell phone-only households).

That, of course, would not bode well for a public radio station, which runs about 90 percent white — a fact mirrored in KUT programming, with its dearth of Hispanic and Black personalities and programs. (The one shining light is Michael Crockett’s Horizontes, though it’s actually Portuguese in derivation.)

A recent article by media pundit Kevin Brass in the Austin Chronicle, the alternative paper in town, featured this note about KUT and the new PPM monitoring: “KUT posted strong numbers in July and August, especially the nationally syndicated Morning Edition and All Things Considered programs.” Well, that’s a given, as the NPR flagship programs have always been the rainmakers for public radio, as shown in an earlier post, here. Notably missing is any mention of the “new, improved” shows marketing Triple A tripe as a panacea to the ratings blues sung by station suits.

The article says that KUT wasn’t part of the Arbitron diary system, but when the kristallnacht of a year ago supplanted longtime free-form DJs with hip new expensive talent from afar, officious suit Hawk Mendenhall used as justification all sorts of mumbly jumble about “cumes” and “TSLs” and “day parts” and the like — the jargon favored by the bean counters in commercial radio wed to Arbitron numbers. Maybe he just conjured them up.

Kevin also noted that the Austin ratings, as seen elsewhere, tended to favor the bubblegrum offerings in radio, explaining the subservience “public” radio bean counters show to the Triple A charts:

In August, the top-ranked station among listeners ages 25-54, the most desirable demographic, was perky pop machine Majic 95.5FM, which tended to finish around fifth in the diary system. Majic was followed by hit jukeboxes Bob-FM and Kiss-FM, country KASE, and Mix 94.7FM. Even oldies station KXXS-FM, “True Oldies 92.5,” which didn’t register a blip in the diary system, showed up as the 17th-ranked station, beating out sports stations KVET-AM, “The Zone,” and KTXX-FM, “The Horn.”

The latest ratings for Boston, shown here, don’t paint a particularly pretty picture for WUMB and ‘GBH, either, if you can believe the numbers. The stations appear to be muddling along, with their audiences apparently slip-sliding away despite efforts by suits to polish the apple of their appeal. What this portends for the “public” stations in our cities, with their confused efforts to win friends and influence the monied minority, is anybody’s guess. They seem to believe that behaving like every jittery suit in commercial radio will make it all better. But once again, the forecast calls for pain.

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2 Responses

  1. The “money demo” is what the advertisers go after, even though in public radio, 90% of listeners are over 35… That’s where the money comes from to support these stations.

  2. these numbers are meaningless, as they’re for a 6+ demo…the money demo is adults 25-54. there are tremendous problems with ppm, but there were also tremendous problems with arb diary system. if you want to see what is happening in boston radio, you should be looking at adults 18-34 and 25-54 to get a sense…as for crb, their audience skews even older and you might want to look at 45+.

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