New ratings approach presents challenge to Cruisin' Oldies

Dear diary...

KRWZ/950 AM, known as Cruisin' Oldies, went live Wednesday, and the station is clearly investing in name Denver talent, including Randy Jay, who got the heave-ho last year amid KOOL's demo-shifting experiment, and longtimer Hal Moore. But even if the station attracts a sizable audience of boomers to its mix of '50s and '60s rock classics, it may not make much of a dent in the ratings due to changes just announced by Arbitron, the firm that measures the size of radio audiences. Starting in Spring 2009, the company will "increase cash and other incentives for persons age 18-34 while reducing incentives for age 55+ only households in all diary markets." The result means that stations like KRWZ and KEZW/1430 AM will likely earn ratings that underestimate their actual listenership to a considerable degree because fewer members of the loyal older listenership they target will be counted. Judging by Arbitron's policy shift, folks who are age 55 are older matter even less than before.

To read the press release, click "More." -- Michael Roberts

Arbitron plans cell-phone-only sampling, increased incentives to listeners 18-34

(September 15, 2008) Arbitron Inc. has announced an expansion of its sample quality improvement programs for diary markets. The new efforts are designed to further enhance the participation of 18-34 year olds in the company's diary-based radio ratings services. Arbitron plans to:

- Add cell-phone-only households to the survey sample in an 125 diary markets beginning with the Fall 2009 survey;

- Increase cash and other incentives for persons age 18-34 while reducing incentives for age 55+ only households in all diary markets starting spring 2009;

- Accelerate the development and deployment of electronic and online alternatives to the paper and pencil diary for all markets.

"Continually enhancing the quality of our samples, surveys and reports is a priority for Arbitron. While our improvements in PPMTM markets have been getting the headlines in the past months, we have also been working to expand the scope of our efforts for diary markets," said Steve Morris, chairman, president and chief executive officer, Arbitron Inc. "We're grateful to the Arbitron Radio Advisory Council, the Small Market Owner Operator Caucus and many radio group owners for their participation, which has helped us set our priorities and shape the programs we are unveiling today."

Adding cell-phone-only sampling Arbitron plans to implement cell-phone-only household sampling in an initial 125 diary markets starting with the Fall 2009 survey. (Specific market list not yet finalized.) The company's goal is to sample cell-phone-only households in all diary markets. The specific timing of further deployment of cell-phone-only sampling will be informed by the results of our 2009 implementation. NOTE: Portable People MeterTM markets already include cell-phone-only households in their panels.

"The number of households that have 'cut the cord' and can be reached only by cell phone has risen steadily," said Owen Charlebois, president, Technology, Research and Development, Arbitron Inc. "People who live in homes that can be reached only by cell phone are more likely to be between the ages of 18 and 34. By including cell-phone-only homes in the sample frame we will be better able to improve young adult proportionality in diary markets."

Redirect cash incentives from older to younger Arbitron is planning to increase incentives paid to households with a person between the ages of 18 to 34 in residence, while at same time reducing the cash incentives it pays to households with persons ages 55 and older only.

Arbitron plans this redistribution of survey incentives from older respondents to younger respondents in all diary market starting in Spring 2009. The Spring 2009 rollout is contingent on the success of a "live test" which will be conducted during the Fall 2008 survey in selected markets. A portion of each test market's sample will receive the new treatment approach.

"Before we begin the rollout of cell-phone-only sampling, we plan to give all diary markets the benefit of increased financial incentives for 18-34 year olds," said Pierre Bouvard, president, Sales and Marketing, Arbitron Inc. "Along with other improvements introduced earlier this year, such as young-male promised incentives and second-chance diaries, our goal is to produce an immediate and measureable improvement in the proportionality of 18 to 34 year olds in diary markets."

Arbitron is accelerating its work to design Web-based data collection tools and test whether that could replace the paper diary as the primary means to collect data. Work has begun on designing this new approach. Methods and feasibility tests are being scheduled for 2009.

Arbitron intends to refine the concept with an approach that targets the Web-based tool as a "first choice," particularly for younger respondents, while maintaining the option for the telephone interview or a paper and pencil-based form for older respondents.

"Web-based data collection is a promising tool when it is used with accepted probability sampling techniques," says Bob Patchen, senior vice president and chief research officer, Arbitron Inc. "We are focusing on approaches that emphasize on-line participation, while giving less Web-savvy consumers the choice of more conventional alternatives."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts