Arbitron Task Force to Tackle Engagement

Hoping to bring an engagement metric to radio ratings, Arbitron announced Thursday (Sept. 17) it had assembled a task force of 18 broadcasters, agencies and advertisers to develop and define what the ratings firm termed an “affinity” measure. To oversee and guide the development of the metric and facilitate the process among the members of the task force, Arbitron retained Sequent Partners, a brand and media metrics consultancy based on New York.

The group’s first meeting was held Tuesday (Sept. 15). By the end of the year, the task force will recommend to Arbitron a way to develop a metric that more closely defines the relationship the listener has with the station. Ultimately, the endeavor could lead to a new ratings metric that buyers and planners might use in valuing radio campaigns.

“Radio is at a critical crossroads today. This initiative will help relevant industries understand radio beyond the traditional quantitative metrics and comprehend what radio can uniquely contribute to a media plan,” said Dr. Tom Evans, vp of audio research and special projects for ESPN, one of the committee members.

Part of the impetus for the formation of the task force came at the request of ethnic broadcasters. Staunch critics of the portable people meter, ethnic broadcasters have asserted that the PPM ratings do not give their stations credit for the loyalty of their audiences.

Several ethnic broadcasters sit on the task force, including Univision Communications, Inner City Broadcasting and Radio One. Other task force members include representatives from Katz Media Group, The Coca Cola Company, Subway, CARAT, Magna Global, Tapestry and Burrell Advertising.

The radio business is coming off hard times. While radio reaches 235 million people weekly, advertisers have been cutting budgets or shifting dollars to new media, much to the dismay of the radio business. Through the first half of the year, radio was down 23 percent, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau. A number of forecasts call for single-digit declines next year, slowly building to a turnaround in 2011.

Other media have added additional metrics to enhance the ratings. TV has commercial (C3 ratings). The outdoor industry recently unveiled its Eyes On ratings, which incorporates a “likely to see” measure in the ratings.

Several ideas were discussed during the first Arbitron task force meeting, including commercial ratings and measures that help buyers and planners distinguish between stations that earn the same ratings, a condition exacerbated by the portable people meter.

“The PPM has created ratings compression, so it’s hard to make distinctions between stations that have the same ratings rank,” said Janice Finkel-Green, executive vp and director of futures and technology for Magna Global. “I would like to see something that buyers and planers could actually use.”