This morning’s Inside Radio reports that Hubbard owned WTOP will no longer insert ads in its streams, opting instead to simulcast 100% of its broadcast programming online. This is a decision made earlier this year by small market broadcasting group Saga Communications, who at the time blamed imperfect ad insertion technology for its decision.
The biggest reason that a broadcast company would opt to simulcast 100% of its programming rather than inserting different ads into its stream would be that Arbitron will only measure the online audience and the on-air audience as one if the station simulcasts the exact same thing on the stream as it broadcasts. There’s nothing wrong with Arbitron’s thinking in this regard – it would be flawed for them to represent the two audiences (streamed and broadcast) as one if the programming were not completely identical. That would be misleading to advertisers who might look at the combined audience number and conclude that their commercials achieved that reach when they had not.
WTOP is up front about the reason for its move. Inside Radio quotes SVP/GM Joel Oxley : “Since WTOP is now a simulcast, those listeners can now be added to our Arbitron ratings,” he says. “For WTOP even a slight move up in ratings can mean a significant rise in revenue.” For the top billing radio station in the country, that can make a big difference.
This move by WTOP signals a growing interest by broadcasters in blending their audiences into one to create ratings uniformity. It’s a clear decision to sell the audience as one, rather than two separate audiences. It makes sense in some ways, but there are problems as well. Ads created for over the air listeners often have a call to action like “Call this number” while ads that are streamed should have an online call to action. As well, streaming ads have more targeting and tracking capabilities than broadcast ads do. But times are tough and revenues are down. Broadcasters, like everyone else, are forced to take a hard look at their options and in a case like this prefer the one that promises a more immediate uptick for revenue.