Friday, December 18, 2009

All Things Considered, More People Say They Listen to NPR Than Actually Do

Arbitron Inc., the dominant media market research firm in the United States, is giving up its old and notoriously unreliable listener diary method for measuring radio market share and is adopting a technical means for recording which radio stations people are really listening to.

This is good news for market researchers, and bad news for National Public Radio stations.

From the Portland Tribune, deep in the heart of NPR territory, comes this news:

Portlanders have been saying for years that they listened to public radio more than anything else.

But it turns out they aren’t as refined or cerebral as they claimed to be.

A new — and more accurate — way of measuring radio listenership shows Portland-area residents are soaking up soft rock and oldies to a much greater extent than previously reported. And while public radio station KOPB once reigned as No. 1, preliminary statistics from new electronic measuring devices indicate that it dropped to 11th-highest in total listenership among local stations in October.

K103, which airs adult contemporary music, rocketed to the top in total listenership in October, while oldies station KLTH leapfrogged over several rivals to finish second.

And it isn't only in Portland that NPR has been enjoying inflated numbers:

In markets where Arbitron has rolled out the portable people meters [devices that identify each radio station within the wearer's earshot] NPR stations are taking hits much like OPB — including KUOW in Seattle and KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif.

In my local radio market, the NPR station (WAMU) normally ranks second, behind the commercial all-news WTOP. Sheer unscientific personal anecdotal evidence suggests to me that when Arbitron introduces portable people meters here, WAMU will take a big ratings cut.


Tony said...

I'm confused as to how this works. I listen to NPR at home while eating breakfast, cooking dinner and in a car while driving. This is the same for everyone I know.

How would the portable people meter pick up on this? It sounds to me that it's going to seriously undercut NPR listeners. When the secretary has the radio on it's never NPR - same for most public spaces I go.

TSB said...

Since the meters record radio sounds in the wearer's immediate vicinity, they pick up lots of non-elective radio programming - in offices, waiting rooms, coffee shops , etc. That's what the market researchers and advertisers want to know: what radio programming you heard, whether or not you chose it.

That factor alone will no doubt reduce NPR's market share (unless people start asking for it in offices, etc.). On the other hand, I always thought people were over-reporting how much they listened to NPR, just to give it a ratings boost.