Today, I'm pleased to welcome Arbitron's Vice President for Domestic Research, Dr. Ed Cohen, for an exciting guest blog:
It’s a general perception that research geeks don’t write exciting stuff. Then again, that may be just perception, but if you’re the typical radio person reading this, you’re probably thinking something like “he’s going to defend the diary again” or “he will tell us how wonderful life will be when we have PPM.” No way, my friend.
The Jacobs blog is often attuned to the technological changes that are going on at a mind-blowing pace. You also see how the sometimes sycophantic press will sing the praises of the latest technology and that this new device or distribution system will be one more nail in radio’s coffin. Everyone, well almost everyone, wants to be cool. It’s more fun to tell the world how great a new technology will be than to point out the warts.
My point is that the technological and political ground is shaking under survey research, too. Just as it’s very hard to predict what the media landscape will look like in a few years, it’s just as hard to predict what the survey landscape will be. Before you bail on me, it matters a great deal to you.
Telephone-based survey research is being stretched. Actually, I shouldn’t use the present tense, because it has been stretched for some time. At Arbitron, we’ve done our best to keep up and make sure that you have one of the highest quality surveys done anywhere in the U.S. When your core demo’s share drops five points, it’s hard to believe that statement, but the pros in our field know. Short of some of the government studies, which cost millions and take years, Arbitron’s radio survey is one of the best out there today.
But we’re faced with problems. For example, Fred has done his best to make sure we’re aware of the “cell phone only” problem. We knew about it a while back and we’re working on it, but the fix is not simple or cheap. We’re trying to incorporate an internet diary. Easier to do than cell phones, but how many people, even webheads, want to enter their listening this way for seven days? Not many, based on our testing.
Most Arbitron services (local market report, RADAR, Maximi$er, County Coverage, Nationwide, etc.,) carry Media Rating Council accreditation. If you look at a printed Arbitron report, you’ll see the double check mark logo on the cover. Don’t know what the MRC is? You should find out. An accredited service has to go through an extensive audit by an outside firm followed by a review and affirmative vote by the MRC board. Your company may even be a member of MRC. Arbitron has been part of the voluntary MRC process for over forty years.
Last week, hearings were held on Capitol Hill for the FAIR bill, which is an attempt to require television rating services to receive accreditation from the Media Rating Council. It might be worth your time to find the testimony. This would be a major change in the landscape if it becomes law.
We’re at a point where the best minds in the survey research field are recognizing that the ground is shifting. Meanwhile, our clients want to do more with the data than ever before. Yes, Arbitron is guilty of giving you the ability to get an estimate for men 18-34 from 7 PM to midnight (or any quarter hour in that daypart). Just because you can doesn’t mean you always should. Our basic measurement, average quarter hour, has been stretched to where consistency is next to impossible based on radio usage levels and the number of competitive stations in nearly every market. That’s why the condensed market reports will be based on a two book average beginning with the Fall 2005 survey with more changes coming in 2007.
So, while you deal with streaming, podcasts, satellite services, and more, while trying to do good radio, Arbitron is doing the same in our business; it’s just that the terms are different. This is a period of transformation and it should be an interesting ride.