Arbitron to End Ratings Embargoes... Sort Of

April 4, 2012 by

COLUMBIA, MD -- For the first time in nearly four years, the general public will get a glimpse of Arbitron's ratings data for the Syracuse market.  This, after the radio ratings giant reportedly announced that it will no longer "embargo" publicly-released ratings in certain markets.  But it's just a glimpse -- some stations will be left off the list.

There's no announcement on Arbitron's own website, but two major national radio industry news websites -- and -- are reporting Arbitron will release "topline" (all persons, age 12+) ratings data for every single market, for all reports released April 16 and beyond.

The only catch: the numbers released to the media and the general public will only include ratings data for stations that actually subscribe to the full ratings report.  If a station doesn't subscribe, you won't see them on the list.  That data is only provided directly to paying subscribers.

Arbitron's already been trying this "subscriber only" policy in a handful of markets... Utica-Rome has been among them.  Check out our Utica-Rome Arbitron page and you'll notice the list only includes ratings for stations listed as subscribers on Arbitron's web site.  (By contrast, Eastlan Ratings has allowed to share topline ratings for all stations in Syracuse and Utica-Rome -- subscribers, non-subscribers, and even non-commercial stations, which are typically excluded from Arbitron's main listings.)

Syracuse is a bit different: as a continuously measured market, there are four "full" ratings books per year, with monthly "Arbitrend" reports in between.  Radio-Info's Tom Taylor points out that, in many markets, there are clients which only subscribe to the quarterly reports, so these stations will not appear in the public monthly rankings.  That could be the case in Syracuse -- where only 14 stations are listed as subscribers right now.

The policy appears to be a compromise to allow the public to review ratings data, without "giving a free ride" to non-subscribers.  But is the picture really that useful if certain stations are simply left out of the rankings?  At least one consulting agency disagrees.  Harker Research published a blog post entitled "Arbitron Shoots Own Foot," arguing that this new policy could ultimately hurt the radio industry more than it could help.

Your Thoughts?

Do you applaud Arbitron for lifting the embargoes on markets like Syracuse?  Or do you think the "subscriber only" policy makes it a moot point?  Post your comments below via Facebook, or further below with your free login.

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One comment on “Arbitron to End Ratings Embargoes... Sort Of”

  1. While I see Arbirton’s point, I do not feel it is a wise move for two reasons.

    First and foremost, if ratings are published outside the domain of radio wonks (for example, in the Post-Standard) they will be very confusing to readers who will not know exactly which stations are missing, much less where those stations would likely appear. Confounding this will be the fact that some adjacent market stations may appear and still other adjacent-market stations would have appeared had they been subscribers. Of course this is on top of the absence of below the dial stations in Arbirtron’s reports. Since the paper would have to spend half the article explaining what is missing from the ratings, they may well decide not to publish them at all. Clearly, the ratings would be more useful to anyone looking at them if they included all stations.

    Second, leaving stations off the list could really backfire. Potential advertisers could perceive Arbitron as being less relevant than they are. While this is not likely to be the case with those who use agencies, a small business owner might interpret Arbitron’s inability to sign a number of well-known stations as a serious weakness. (I think it’s simply pricing.) Others may wonder what is lacking in Arbirton’s service that inhibits stations from subscribing.

    Of course, most people reading this website already realize the uselessness of Monday-Sunday, 6A-Midnight, 12+ Persons ratings in the first place. Does anyone buy on those numbers?

    I guess it could always be worse, perhaps next Arbiton will only report numbers on stations whose call letters end in a vowel or those whose transmitters are located in even numbered zip codes.


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