There's one tiny thing that's made being an observer of the CNY Radio scene a little frustrating for quite some time. Arbitron hasn't released ratings data to the public in a few years now, in any of the four markets covered by CNYRadio.com. Many of you also indicated such frustration, so we went looking for answers.
For many markets, Arbitron publically publishes the ratings for the overall "Persons 12+" demographic. This indicates overall, which stations are doing well and which ones aren't. In many markets, it's perfect because the general public gets a sense of the rankings, while still requiring stations to subscribe for the specifics they need, like dayparts and demographic breakdowns (like Women 25-54 or Men 19-35).
But here in Central New York, unless you work for a radio station or ad agency that subscribes to the ratings book, you've been left completely in the dark. A quick check of the ratings pages at Radio-Online shows it's been anywhere from one to four years since our local markets have been updated.
Back in late April, we ran a weekly poll asking about the embargoes. We don't quite remember what prompted us to run the poll, but an overwhelming 67% of the voters said it's time for Arbitron to "loosen up already" and lift the embargoes.
[poll id="13" type="result"]
Granted, there were only 15 votes (compared to hundreds of visitors every day), so this is hardly unscientific, but we decided to go ahead and share the results with Arbitron anyway. We also asked why these markets were embargoed in the first place, and when we might ever have a chance to see those embargoes lifted. (We once heard a rumor that one GM in Watertown requested the embargo after hearing a non-subscribing station was using the P12+ numbers... true or not, the major owners in Watertown have since changed hands since 2004. Is the embargo still necessary?)
We contacted Arbitron's media relations contact, Jessica Benbow, in May. She responded to us on July 16th, apologizing for the delay because she received our e-mail "when my boss was on vacation and I just couldn't get to everything."
Responding to our query about WHY all four CNY markets have been embargoed, she would only tell us "the decision to make a market client exclusive is proprietary. There is no time line for releasing a market from that status."
She also reiterates a fact most radio folk already know: "The data we collect is for radio stations and advertisers to buy and sell air time and while we do release some topline numbers to the public, it is always at our discretion."
Bottom line, Arbitron is not saying why the markets were embargoed. They are not saying when the embargoes will be lifted -- or if they even will be lifted at all.
What do you think? Vote in the current CNYRadio.com Weekly Poll below, and if you feel so inclined, please scroll down even further and post comments.
Separating the news from the opinion, here's what we think. We respect the fact that Arbitron's ratings data is proprietary information. As a private-sector company, there is nothing obligating Arbitron to release any numbers to the public.
But we're on the fence about the embargoes. After all, a non-subscriber using the data can only go so far with P12+ numbers. It also leaves radio enthusiasts who don't work in radio, in the dark.
On the other hand, embargoes aren't such a bad idea if you're among those who believe public numbers may sway listeners away from the stations they truly like, in order to "fit in" by favoring the stations that appear to be most-popular on the survey. (For example, we dislike presidential polling, because we feel it clouds the minds of voters who truly like one candidate, but ultimately support the "popular" candidate.)