You Don’t Need a Weatherman . . .

In Milwaukee, Arbitron has run into resistance from some locals, according to the Journal Sentinel website post of Duane Dudek (“2 big radio chains still resisting new people-meter ratings”). He notes that “two . . . heavy hitters in the Milwaukee broadcast market — Milwaukee Radio Group, which owns five stations, including WKLH-FM (96.5) and WHQG-FM (102.9); and the Journal Broadcast Group, which owns WTMJ-AM (620) and WLWK-FM (94.5) — do not subscribe to the service.” Duane says that in a metropolitan area of better than 1.4 million people, the sample size for the Purple People Meter is around 950 (which seems high, as Austin, Texas, is about the same size and has a sample size of 780). And as we’ve seen in numerous previous posts, numbers can be skewed by just a handful of those samplers. Then there’s the cost:

“It’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to subscribe,” said Bill Hurwitz [vice president and general manager of the Milwaukee Radio Alliance].

Stations can pay as much as 65% more for PPM than they paid under the diary method, said Tom Taylor, of RadioInfo.com, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow in this economic climate. The Milwaukee Radio Group’s contract with Arbitron expired in the spring of 2009, “and we chose not to renew in light of the pending transition” from diary to PPM, said Annmarie Topel, vice president and general manager of the group, which is owned by Saga Communications.

She said the stations “haven’t had a lot of challenges” not having the ratings because “the product is still the product, and the result is still the result.”

Steve Wexler, executive vice president of radio and television operations for Journal Broadcast Group, believes a blind adherence to numbers can hurt more than help:

[W]exler rose through the ranks of the Journal Broadcast Group as a programmer, and feels an over-reliance on ratings data comes at the expense of “understanding the market and the sensibilities of the audience.”

“If you just go by the data, you’d be making changes all the time,” said Wexler. . . . “Are the ratings potentially valuable? Sure. But when I hear people say, ‘I have to have them,’ and ‘What do I do without them?’ I wonder, is that all we’re making decisions on? A spreadsheet? If Arbitron went out of business tomorrow, we’d still make sure our stations are appealing and had good programming. Ultimately, the market tells you. Advertisers would let us know in the most direct way possible, if they don’t spend money with you.

“That has not happened. So we must be doing a good job of attracting audiences and meeting their needs.”

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