Sunday, December 12, 2004

Julian Breen on the ARB Fly-In

Julian Breen, former VP of Greater Media and the inventor of "Super Trends" extrapolation software moderates the terrific A r b i t r o n D a t a U s e r s F o r u m for the Discussion of Radio Audience Measurement.

From: "Julian H. Breen"
Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2004 14:33:38 -0500
Subject: Arbitron Fly-In

As you've probably seen in the trades, Arbitron held it's annual consultant Fly-In on December 9. While not all all-inclusive, the following notes will give somewhat more detail than was published in the trades along with some perspective.

The turnout was almost double that of last year when I thought the event was about to become an endangered species. In fact, there wasn't quite enough space in the lunchroom for all the participants, so the turnout may have even surprised Arbitron.

My impressions:

All of the Arbitron people as well as Steve Goldstein, the Saga executive and Chair of the Arbitron Radio Advisory Council, think some form of metered measurement, replacing the diary sooner or later, is a foregone conclusion even though ARAC has not yet endorsed Arbitron's PPM.

However, Arbitron's PPM is not the only game in town. The British are testing several other forms of electronic measurement as well as the PPM. It seems to me a similar approach would serve us well before we get stampeded into Arbitron's PPM-land. Of course, the Arbitron folks are not talking about the metering competition. Perhaps we should and get the alternatives out on the table.

The Arbitron people spent a lot of time selling the PPM's capability of producing minute-by-minute data. They say program directors want it. However, we all know the people who sign the checks-- general managers and the like -- are scared to death of it. There will be minute-by-minute data released in the upcoming Houston PPM test, but it will be raw unweighted numbers of meters, not weighted audience estimates. This is an effort to keep the sub-AQH data out of the sell-buy arena where buyers are likely to beat down rates with it.

My take: While minute-by-minute data would be an excellent research and programming tool (and likely put some of the radio research companies out of business as Arbitron scarfs up the dollars they now earn), it's potential impact on radio revenue is substantial and scary. I think we as an industry need to have an agreement with Arbitron-- signed, sealed and delivered-- regarding what kinds of information Arbitron will provide from its meters before we agree to encode our signals and buy the data. If it exists, there's no practical way to keep minute-by- minute data out of the sell-buy arena any more than we have been successful in preventing people from selling and buying based on Arbitrends or even extrapolations of Arbitrends.

As Steve pointed out in his excellent opening talk, "granularity [of the published PPM audience estimates] is the genie in the bottle."

More on the Houston PPM test: The four Cox stations and three Radio One stations are still encoding holdouts. So, with Infinity now agreeing to encode, Arbitron has encoding commitments from 42 out of 50 radio stations, 15 of 16 TV stations and 44 of 46 cable networks. XM and Sirius will not be encoded. First station-level data is expected to be issued as a Spring 2005 book with some 2,100 meters (780 households) among respondents 6+. Nielsen is not directly participating in the Houston test and a final decision on the Nielsen- Arbitron PPM joint venture is not expected until the first quarter of 2006.

In other news: Arbitron continues to slug away at offering an on-line E-Diary as a option for respondents instead of a paper diary. While Arbitron's Dr. Ed Cohen says it's a priority, there's no timeline for completion as yet.

Arbitron continues to test ways of including land-line-less cell phone households in its sample frame. These households are estimated at about 5% nationwide, but up to 20% in some heavy cell phone markets, and mostly younger demos. There are legal hassles involving dialing cell phones with RDD equipment as well as some basic research issues. Arbitron doesn't expect to be able to include cell phone numbers in its sample frame until 2006 at the earliest.

In the past Arbitron has determined race/ethnicity on a household basis. That means all persons in a household were assumed to be of the same race/ethnicity. This will change to the determination of race/ethnicity on a personal level which could be different for each person in a household. The result is likely to be a shift of some people from black or Hispanic to other, Arbitron's catchall category for everyone else.

There is a new initiative to smooth out the sometimes substantial bounces in the 104 markets Arbitron measures on a condensed (limited demos) two book a year basis. Since the broadcasters in these mostly small markets won't pay for additional sample and Arbitron won't foot the bill on its own, the idea is to take the existing sample and spread it over 48 weeks with a new report issued each quarter based on the preceding 48 weeks of diaries-- sort of a rolling average although each quarterly report will be based on reweighting the entire 48 weeks of diaries. Data will be available for narrower survey periods such as 24 weeks and 12 weeks, but with greatly restricted dayparts and demos. The idea is to promote sell-buy on the 48 week quarterly books, but give some idea of trending with the 12 and 24 week "quick look" data. Implementation begins with Spring 2006 and will be fully installed by Spring 2007.

I think everyone can agree with Steve Goldstein's observation that this is a very compromised solution to a serious problem. But, without additional sample, it's probably the best Arbitron can do in the circumstances.

If you have any comments about the Fly-In or any other audience measurement topic, please send them to and I'll send them out to the full list.

Every year we take Arbitron's survey schedule and break it down by Phase and Week on a 12 month calendar. Many people find it useful and your copy of the 2005 edition is free for the download at

Happy Holidays, - Julian

Subscriptions are free to Julian's ADE Forum. Just send an e-mail to with "subscribe" (no quotes) in the body of the message.

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