Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Another totally misleading feel-good stat

By Don Keith

I'm always on the lookout for folks who use statistics and so-called research to back up whatever preconceived idea they espouse. Seems I spot them most often among radio broadcasters who are desperately trying to show that their industry is not in deep, deep trouble and their 1935 business model is being zapped by rapidly changing media technology and how people seek out information, entertainment, and audio companionship.

Latest example comes--as it so often does--from the broadcast trade publication INSIDE RADIO:

FM/AM radio still leads the listening pack: report.
There is fresh research showing radio continues to hold onto its primary place in Americans’ listening lives. A survey conducted by Morgan Stanley found 86% of those surveyed said they currently listen to FM-AM radio. While slightly below the 92% reported by Nielsen, the survey puts broadcast radio well above any of the competing media outlets.

Well, there it is. 86% of people listen to AM/FM, over-the-air, tower-on-the-hill, "the biggest and best hits of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and today with the fewest commercial interruptions," "The Vinnie and Veronica and Vomit Boy in the Morning Radio Show" radio.

Wow!  That's 86%!  That's good, ain't it?

"Okay," the statistical-common-sense voice inside me says, "who did Morgan Stanley--the epitome of trusted media research--ask about their listening habits?"  Give me some demo information. And what were the "competing media outlets" they mentioned?  How were they listed in any questions that may have been asked about them?  And how were the questions worded?

"Do you listen to AM/FM radio?"

How many among you, after thinking about it for a moment, could answer any way other than, "Well, not very much, but yeah.  I may catch the traffic report on the way to work. Or try to catch the score of the game last night. Or the guy in the next cube listens to sports talk all day and I have to listen, too, whether I want to or not.  So, yeah, I guess I listen."

Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  We have a "yes!" And we have ourselves a genuine feel-good statistic!

86% said they listened. Not how much they listen or how often they listen or whether or not simply having the car radio on in the background while chatting on the mobile phone counts as "listening." And we have no idea how many people are even aware if the audio they are hearing spilling out of the dashboard or on their tablet, smart phone or computer at any given time is AM, FM, Pandora, Spotify, their own iTune library, or some kid in his basement in Bloomington streaming head-banging metal music all day.

The most stunning stat here is that 14% of whoever they asked said, "No. I do not listen to AM or FM."

As theoretically ubiquitous as broadcast radio is supposed to be, how would it be possible for anyone not to occasionally--even if accidentally--listen?  Maybe Morgan Stanley's definition of "listen" is far more liberal than mine. Or that of the merchant who is paying good money for that commercial on the AM/FM station.

But, if it makes you feel good, take that 86% stat and run with it, broadcasters.  You still need to be aware, though, that regardless of what this feel-good stat is purported to show, other media that are perfectly capable of delivering compelling audio content to listeners is taking that former audience of yours and running away with them.

And feel-good stats or not, you will have one hell of a time getting them back unless you give them some good reason to return.

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