An Open Letter to Rep. 'Ed' Towns


Regarding the latest attack on Arbitron's portable people meter ratings technology by Rep. Edolphus "Ed" Towns (D-N.Y.), he should read an article I wrote for Admap back in March 2004 in response to the misguided support of diaries by Paul Kennedy of RAJAR (the United Kingdom's Radio Joint Audience Research organization). Sadly, it appears that the arguments regarding diaries versus audio meters have changed little over the past five years. To suggest that station audiences have "declined" is specious. Audiences reported via diaries and via PPM are simply different due to measurement approaches and technologies, but there should be little argument about which is better.

I appreciate the importance and complexity of achieving "sufficient" quality samples in order to mine audience currency data at a granular level for any station or daypart. Imbalances between the profile of a sample or panel and the universe being measured are regrettable but inevitably common and are reweighted accordingly. The myriad of technical details regarding radio audience currencies are assiduously overseen by the Media Rating Council (MRC) to the most excruciating levels. Surely, the MRC, which has long had the "authority" to adjudicate such matters by Congress and the Justice Department, is where these issues should be resolved.

Regarding the concerns over sample sizes, the math appears wonky. The use of 7,200 diaries over three months in a market only provides a weekly analysis basis of about 550 respondents using an antediluvian measurement methodology that lacks a "true" basis for analysis of the ebb and flow of a station's audience. Contrast that with a potential PPM sample of 2,000 in a market every week from the same respondents via an audio meter that provides the basis for more accurate and meaningful analysis at the minute-by-minute level. You can "hear" the picture. Metrics from diaries constrain radio station managers, who ultimately need the most modern tracking tools to effectively manage their audiences, marketing and advertisers.

Advertisers are demanding more accountability based on commercial exposure for all media. In this environment, that the radio currency has remained based on average quarter hour and that the diary-based multiweek reach and frequency model has not been modified is puzzling. That discussion is for another day.

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