The news that Nielson will begin measuring broadcast radio listening in 50 smaller markets and has contracts with Cumulus and Clear Channel is good for the industry. Arbitron’s stronghold as the sole player in terms of radio ratings has choked the industry with mediocre measurement standards and poor accountability.
They have hoped to do the same with Internet radio. Six years ago Arbitron purchased a company called Measurecast that was the leader in server based measurement of Internet radio. Their press release stated their intent to create the standard for streaming measurement. About 18 months later they shuttered the service and replaced it with ratings gleaned from Comscore’s website traffic panel.
At that time I had recently launched a new company which intended to rely on station by station server based measurement from Arbitron’s Measurecast service. Our plan was to aggregate audience and sell the network to radio and interactive agencies. The high degree of accountability that server based measurement provides was an important element in our new media pitch: yes, it was new, but every impression could be accurately projected and accounted for.
I met with Arbitron to discuss my concern that they were eliminating server based measurement. Their explanation was that server based measurement was too expensive, and that estimates had sufficed for 40 years in broadcast and with the Arbitron name, they would be able to make that the standard in Internet radio as well. My point is this: for too long, Arbitron has not sought to create the best possible ratings service for the industry, rather, they have done as little as they thought they could get away with, and relied on their name and monopoly. Broadcasters have realized this, and have taken steps to bring another major player into the game. This will only serve to improve the quality of the research and benefit the industry.
Apparently Nielson’s initial plans will not include rating Internet radio listening by station. They will credit Internet radio listening and satellite radio listening to a PUR category (people using radio) – but not credit individual stations. So the listening will contribute to the universe, which would make it easy to add that measurement later.
To read more about Internet radio audience measurement services, check out my post here.