Let’s start with simple math.
243 million AM/FM listeners + 24 million SiriusXM subscribers + 103 million Internet radio listeners = 2many Americans.
Obviously some of us are listening to radio on more than one platform. But the media are using different methods, different metrics and good old fashioned “spin” to make it impossible to manage a clean campaign across all audio channels.
Arbitron Ratings report the average quarter hour audience size for AM/FM stations, based on minimum five-minute listening spans in a 15-minute period. Pandora reports its weekly number of active listeners, although we don’t know if they each listened for one minute or 100 hours. And SiriusXM tells us they have 24 million paid subscribers, but we don’t even know if they turned on the radio or just paid their bill.
Question marks clutter the air when you open the door to digital radio and ask 10 different content providers for their metrics, ad specs and reporting formats. You’ll end up with apple, oranges, kiwis, kumquats and doohickeys (data points that bear no resemblance, whatsoever, to any kind of fruit).
It’s the Wild West in the digital domain, with no sign of a sheriff riding into town anytime soon to restore order. The 20th century radio sales mentality of “My station’s #1″ has morphed into 1s and 0s as each provider’s digital metrics are heralded as the only research that provides an accurate accounting of digital delivery, advertising impressions and click-throughs.
The problem is we’re still in the early phases of digital radio and audience delivery. There is no, one, universally-agreed-upon standard in place. Everyone spins numbers to their creative advantage. And veracity is called into question when the media tells an advertiser they generated 5,000 click-throughs, while the client reports receiving 73. And when it comes time to assign responsibility for a failed campaign, we end up with more finger pointing than Andy Reid in a donut shop.
Time will smooth out most of the wrinkles. The listening public will choose its favorite media platforms and the current field of hundreds of providers will winnow down to a dozen or two major players. But the only thing likely to unite those remaining competitors in a unified system of measurement will be pressure from the ad community that’s funneling the media dollars.
Too few agencies are paying close enough attention or providing credible push back to establish reliable standards. Until they do, we’ll likely have to settle for guessing right and measuring and managing media buys based on ROI and results.
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