So long, Arbitron

September 20, 2010 | Media & Entertainment

This morning’s Inside Radio features several stories about small market broadcasters dropping Arbitron’s ratings services.  Citing rising costs, falling revenues, lousy sample sizes, the perennial errors and restatements, and inadequate coverage of minority populations, a handful of broadcasters — namely those in smaller markets — are beginning to sell inventory based on results alone.  And according to several of the quoted broadcast executives, it’s working.

It begs the question: did anyone ever really care about local ratings?  National advertisers that buy local time probably used the numbers to allocate their spend across markets, but generally speaking, they have always been of relatively little value to local account executives.  Aside from the most basic ratings figures, like cume, which can be explained relatively easily using plain language, small, local advertisers — even the sophisticated multi-unit businesses — don’t have time to understand the ins and outs of the ratings.  And frankly, they don’t care.  If they can’t buy a flight and see some results, then the numbers are irrelevant.

Of course, as any skilled radio tradesman will tell you, there are lots of factors involved in the success of a radio campaign: scheduling, the creative, and the duration of the campaign.  And that’s where the sales staff ought to focus their efforts: helping the client build a successful campaign from the ground up, make it successful, show the client some results, and they’ll be back for more.  Quarter-hour trends be damned.

As Arbitron fades from relevance in the smaller markets, one wonders how long it will be before they disappear completely.  Even with the new PPM technology, Arbitron appears ill-equipped to measure Internet radio, and really, does anyone really need it?  Internet-based radio is measured by virtue of its transmission through monitored networks, and it’s a fairly simple matter to link that up with basic demographic information through the use of cookies.  Sure, cookie monitoring is controversial and may have accuracy problems of its own, but compared with the sample-size issues that Arbitron faces (which were only exacerbated in major markets as a result of the PPM launch), I bet the numbers are still far more reflective of actual listening patterns.

So, farewell Arbitron.  It’s been fun, but it seems as though you’ve overstayed your welcome.