Monday, September 18, 2006

Increasing Ratings Versus Increasing Listening

The opening session of last week's PRPD conference focused on the Audience 2010 report, which details the decline in public radio's national audience. One of the panelists made a comment about public radio's concern over its falling ratings. Those words stuck with me over the past few days because it represents a subtle, yet critical misunderstanding about how public radio uses Arbitron data.

One of the reasons public radio's ratings grew so much over the past 20-years was because we ignored them.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, public radio focused its programming efforts on increasing listening. The reason is simple. Listening equals public service. One hour of listening is one hour of public service provided. One million hours of listening is one million hours of public service provided.

That's why public radio focused its growth goals on AQH, or average-quarter hour audience, rather than Share or Cume Ratings. AQH represents listening. It grows by serving the public better. That might be serving the same people more frequently, serving more people in the community, or some combination of both.

In any case, increasing AQH was always more important than the actual number because the growth represented increased public service, a stronger station-listener relationship, and more relevance in the community. That's why public radio focuses on metrics like listener Loyalty and annual Listener-Hours. They measure how well we are doing at providing public service.

Here's the dirty little secret about public radio's increases in Share and Cume Ratings. They were a by-product of focusing on public service metrics. They were never the ultimate goal. In fact, public radio has a pretty lousy track record at trying to intentionally increase its ratings.
For the last 10-years public radio has been trying to attract a larger share of younger listeners and Black listeners with no measurable success.

Public radio needs to remember this lesson as it invests more of its time and money on new media platforms.

The end numbers don't matter. It's what the numbers tell us about the strength of our relationship with audiences that does.


Anonymous Eliot Landrum said...

Decline? I've been hearing nothing but that public radio listeners have been increasing.

When radio stations think more on how to increase listening, I don't see how better programming won't come from that. Increased ratings sounds like something shock jocks are interested in.

5:45 PM  
Blogger RadioSutton said...

You can read about the audience decline here:

7:53 PM  

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