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Why did my numbers change?

September 19, 2012

Just about every time a new ratings book is released, your audience shares change. Most PDs ask the simple question: WHY? It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a diary or PPM market, there are four possible reasons your Arbitron audience estimates change.

You made a change
This is the most obvious place to look, and it is the only one of the four you can really impact. Even what may appear as an insignificant change can impact how listeners use your radio station. But be careful, change may not always be in a positive direction.

For a music station, I segment these changes into three on-air components:

  • Your music – Is your music mix right and does it have the proper flow?
  • Entertainment between the songs – Is the entertainment between the songs compelling and does it fit with the station’s environment?
  • Commercials – Are your commercials the right length and in the right place?

The good news is, this is where a programmer has the most control.  Therefore this is where your focus needs to be.

Your competitor made a change
In 2012, most consider the competitor to be other radio stations. When they are not listening to me, what other radio stations are they listening to? However, the real question should be, when they are not listening to me, where are they getting their audio entertainment? Once that is determined, you can focus on getting them to listen to you longer.

Where is the competitor vulnerable, and what tactic do you implement to take advantage of their weakness? If you are focused on another radio station, focus on when they are not satisfying their core audience. Are you in entertainment when they are in commercial break? This is a logical place to start.

There was a change in the market
Every market is unique. Changes in the marketplace that have nothing to do with radio can still impact your reported ratings. One prime example of this is your market’s demographic composition. Every year Arbitron adjusts their population estimates, which are factored into their ratings estimates. Without tracking these changes, you might be serving a shrinking segment of the population. Small adjustments might help your station focus on the larger picture.

Arbitron made a change
It seems that the only time a program director focuses on Arbitron is when they have a down book.  It is equally important to recognize when a good book is a result of an Arbitron “kiss” and not your programming genius. Good book or not, remember that Arbitron is delivering estimates. By understanding how well Arbitron conducted its survey, and comparing it to shifts in your audience, you can better understand the Arbitron impact.

In particular, pay close attention to:

  • Arbitron’s overall sample
  • Demographic delivery
  • Ethnic delivery
  • Geographic delivery

While not so scientific, just ask yourself, does this make sense?

-Charlie Sislen, Partner