by Don Keith
Look back at previous posts on this blog and you will see several in which I get all hot and bothered by trade media that cater to broadcast radio's ridiculous attempt to paint any research that comes down the pike as a positive sign of life for what is actually a dying industry. No, I'm not exaggerating about that dying thing. Traditional broadcasting is losing listeners in droves to other forms of entertainment and news. And losing them as well to other distractions such as the cell phone. (As I have noted before, a potential radio listener who is yapping away to her friend on the phone while commuting ain't hearing radio or the ads on the air that sponsors are paying for.)
Yet any research that shows at least a few people still listen to AM or FM sends these guys into shouts of Hosanna. Find some study that shows them to still be #1 for reach and they are absolutely beside themselves.
Most recent example: in today's email update, INSIDE RADIO linked to an article on their web site with the Pollyanna-ish screaming headline:
IN CROWDED LISTENERSHIP TALLY, RADIO TROUNCES RIVALS
Trounces! Wow! So I bite at their click bait. The linked article quotes a study by an outfit called Cowen and Company who say that 74% of their respondents report that they listen to "terrestrial radio." That term, by the way, typically means over-the-air traditional radio but let's assume that none of the supposed 2,500 respondents bragged that yes, they listen to "terrestrial radio."
As usual with these breathless pronouncements about research studies bearing good news, there is no detail about methodology, about what age or ethnic groups make up the study, how the questions were worded or the respondents chosen, over what time span this supposed listening would have occurred, or anything that would give any sort of validity to this "trouncing" declaration. 2,500 respondents who also happen to be "consumers." That is all we know about the study, at least based on this article that uses the data to prove radio is king of reach and frequency, long live the king!
Okay, so 74% say they listen to AM/FM radio, "making it the number one listening platform." How many of us remember when such a number would have been near 100%? With the ubiquity of the radio, especially in cars, how many of us don't listen to at least a snippet sometime during a typical week? How many respondents figured they must have listened sometime so they said they did when asked the question? Even if they had not.
Then, let's look at the other "rivals" who got "trounced." YouTube came in second at 59%. That is a not-so-distant 15% back. Hardly a "trounce" in my definition of the word. Not bad, actually, for a service that is sort of difficult for most of us to even get in our cars. And one that is not necessarily considered to be a "music" source anyway.
Then you have to look all the way back to Pandora at a distant third with 37%...about half as many "listeners" as radio. Pandora, which is also difficult for most of us to get, certainly in our cars but also in many of our homes. I assume most Pandora listening is done on phones (which might cost us through data charges) and computers. It is hardly an arm's-length away in your dashboard, at least for most people. And the other "rivals" listed also cost money--some significant money--unlike free AM and FM over-the-air radio.
But the real deal breaker here, the one fatal flaw that makes Pollyanna cry in her Cheerios, is that we have no idea how much listening these 2,500 merry souls do to each of these sources. Okay, so 74% say they "listen to terrestrial radio." For how long? Maybe I try to catch a traffic report on the way to work each morning. I know Rock 108 does one at :20 past the hour each hour. I hit the button then to hear if I need to detour and then promptly return to Howard Stern on XM/Sirius. I have just "listened to terrestrial radio" and can happily tell the Cowen folks about it. For fifteen seconds, five days a week. I listen to XM/Sirius an hour a morning, eight hours during the workday, and another hour returning home.
If the study is strictly considering "yes, I listen" as a tally mark for each "rival," then in this case, "terrestrial radio" gets one and XM/Sirius gets one. Exactly the same. For just over a minute's worth a week on AM/FM and at least fifty HOURS worth of listening on satellite.
The reason this sort of false-hype chaps my butt so badly is because the industry...of which I was once a part and one that I hate to see die...uses this sort of feel-good but false data to prop up their opinions of themselves. It borders on bearing false witness.
"See, another study shows that people are perfectly pleased with the cheap, voice-tracked, over-researched, pablum we put on the air. Hey, 74% listen to radio! We be cookin'!"
Instead, they should be concentrating on and investing in the on-air product, doing research, not trying to cut their way to profitability, learning to sell the audiences they do attract to potential advertisers, and saving their medium before Pollyanna gives up, gets depressed, and starts smoking crystal meth.