Sunday, August 26, 2007

How Much Is 65+ Sample Worth To You? Anything?

ARB's timing, given the news that started coming out last Wednesday (Arbitron Blames Software In PPM Houston Snag, Arbitron Says PPM Data Are Reliable) was, depending on your perspective either very "fortunate" (lots of folks were right there to question it) .. or extremely UNfortunate (embarassing, to say the very least, and perhaps more importantly very frightening to the stations which have been sold PPM as their ratings currency for this fall!).

For example, a marketing email from Solutions Broadcast Media Group Friday couldn't resist the temptation to take a swipe at both PPM and diary audience measurement technologies ("...another reason why we (SBMG) only conduct our audits via phone recall methodology: Radio ratings tank with Arbitron PPM. Down 30 percent to 50 percent for top-tier stations Details...").

Not long after, Keymarket Communications VP Frank Bell sent us this PS to his notes on the Fly-in, which he was kind enough to share with A&O:
"One thing to watch for as I review my notes again: ARB keeps promoting "stable listening levels" with PPM regardless of the number of in-tab. They are citing listening for the entire market. But that "fact" is irrelevant to anyone operating a specific radio station. I'm sure the low in-tab can dramatically affect estimates of a single station (or format), which is, of course, what gives us all heartburn."

Join the club.

Speaking of heartburn, Mike O'Malley and I were recently commiserating over the terrible sample wobbles in many of our client markets after the Spring books that have become the rule rather than the exception, complaining how it seems Arbitron can't seen to consistently find country core listeners. He told me about a market he had just reviewed where fewer than 40% of the in-tab sample were non-ethnic 25 to 54 year olds.

That sent me back to Maximiser and my trusty Excel spreadsheets. I happened to have data for 12 of my client stations on my laptop.

After finding that one of my client markets had only 30.1% of its total Spring 2007 market sample from non-ethnic 25-54 year olds, I just HAD to check them all.

Only one of those 12 ARB subscribing stations I worked with this past spring had more than 46% of its entire market diaries from non-ethnic listeners between 25 and 54.

Why complain, since - thankfully - all of the A&O client stations in these cities had pretty good to even great Spring books?

Here's why: when you study the sample trends over the last two years, it becomes clear that two factors are combining to create huge problems from Arbitron....

25-54 Non-Ethnic Diaries - (% of All 12+ Diaries, Spring 2007 Survey)
Amarillo - 34.6%

Anchorage - 56.6%
Charlotte - 35.6%
Cincinnati - 41.2%
Eau Claire - 45.5%
Portland - 44.2%
San Diego - 30.1%
Santa Rosa - 35.4%
Seattle - 43.4%
Spokane - 45.4%
Topeka - 42.8%
Victor Valley - 30.5%

Shocking? Sure.

Surprising? Not really. Those two trends I referred to:

#1: More and more households are moving to "cell-phone only." This is especially true among 18 to 34 year olds, creating levels of weighting and proportionality which are nothing short of totally unacceptable in market after market.

#2: A larger and larger portion of the diarykeepers which ARB gets great response from are 65+, the very demo which is projected to grow in size over the next 15 years as leading edge boomers hit retirement age.

This makes the most reliable non-ethnic data in the Arbitron report, based on consistent sample size, the 55+ and 65+ shares. But, who cares?

It would be nice if we could convince our media buying clients that these people are worth reaching, but don't bet the future on it.

From now on, A&O will be tracking the percentage of all of our U.S. and Canadian markets' sample which is non-ethnic and between the ages of 25 and 54.

Get ready for your hair to stand on end as you see the direction that trend line is rapidly moving.

A (only semi-serious) question: how about proposing that Arbitron simply discard all diaries from 65+ year olds, stop wasting any time processing that unimportant data to the majority of our clients and count only 12 to 64 year olds as they benchmark in tab targets?

Do you have a better idea? I'd love to hear it.

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