Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How Radio & TV Ratings Work (Part One)

And why it is a flawed system....

This week I thought I'd go further into explaining a system that people think they understand, but most don't.

Radio ratings. Arbitron is the major provider of this information. Television ratings are similar and the company that provides that information is Nielson.

Eight years ago, when I was taking a sabbatical from the advertising world, our family participated in a Nielson survey. People who work in these industries are prohibited from taking part in these surveys.

We received the form to fill out, which asked us to write what we watched each day for a week. The first day, I filled the form out correctly. The next 6 days, I forgot about it. But I watched TV each day, so on the 7th day, I filled out what I probably watched the previous week and mailed the form back.

I'm sure this is typical for both radio and tv rating surveys. Which means the data is flawed. It is not a true, hour by hour diary of your listening/viewing habits, it is a guesstimate of what you probably did on most days.

But in our market, Fort Wayne is currently market # 105 or #106, this is how radio ratings are gathered twice a year, for 3 months in the spring and then 3 months each fall. The radio stations that pay for the results, (Thousands of $$$$$) get the use of the results when they are complied and released.

Our current rating period runs April thru June and we won't get the results until the end of August. Originally these ratings services were used by program directors to measure the effectiveness of their jobs and for bragging rights. But then they became a tool for advertising agencies to place commercials and negotiate price.

This is where things have become really crazy, when we think about it. Remember the inaccuracies of each survey, multiplied by the thousand or so people who fill out a survey, which is then multiplied to reflect the listening/viewing habits of an entire city, or in our case, 6 county Metropolitan Area of nearly 1/2 a million people.

Still with me? Good, here's how Arbitron counts radio listeners using the diary/survey system:

Arbitron counts individual people, called Cume for Cumulative persons. Arbitron also counts when and how long a person listens to each radio station and tallies this number up and calls it Average Quarter Hour.

If you listen to radio station WWWW from 6:10 to 6:35 am each morning, then turned the radio off until after 7am, you and I know that you listened for 25 minutes. However, using the Quarter Hour system that Arbitron uses, you listened in 3 Quarter Hours. 3 Quarter hours sounds like 45 minutes right? Not according to Arbitron.

If you listened for a least 5 minutes, you get credit for listening to that radio station for an entire 15 minute quarter hour. So, from 6:10-6:15 is one, 6:15-6:30 is two, and 6:30 to 6:35 is three Quarter Hours that radio station WWWW gets credit for you as a listener.

And if you listened to WAAA from 6:00 to 6:05 and then WBBB from 6:05 to 6:10 before you listened to WWWW for the next 25 minutes, they get credit for having you as a listener too for that same 6:00-6:15am Quarter Hour. Only if you wrote all of this down on your survey form.

Sound a little crazy? Let's add this up. WAAA get's 1 Quarter Hour, WBBB gets 1 Quarter Hour, WWW gets 3 Quarter Hours, for a total of 5 quarter hours in less than 60 minutes. In our example, you actually listened to the radio for 35 minutes, yet Arbitron counts 75 minutes (5 quarter hours).

Next week, I'll explain how Ad Agencies use this information.

No comments:

Post a Comment