Designer Radio Ratings By Cumulus

I suspect the radio industry is getting the wool pulled over its eyes by the likes of the Dickey brothers and Nielsen.

The Dickey's have been publicly leading a crusade for -- let's call it what it really is -- cheaper audience ratings for some of its smaller markets. If you believe that better ratings were their main motivation, I have a three week old cheesesteak that I found under the seat at a Flyers game that I'd like to sell you.

The Dickey's did all the right things -- bid it out, try to build industry support from small market operators.

Now we know -- the REST of the story (as Paul Harvey likes to call it).

The first small market operator to join Cumulus is -- Clear Channel. How comforting. Two quality operators acting in an unselfish way to bring truth, justice -- and low prices to the radio industry.

And Nielsen?

Well, they were in bed with Arbitron as little as a year ago with a venture called Project Apollo in which they planned to produce so-called "single source" ratings measuring media usage and product purchasing.

Oh -- and Arbitron's People Meter was the centerpiece. Funny about that. Since then, there has been a divorce.

Nielsen is also feeling its oats because it has been rolling up successes worldwide in traditional and new media platforms.

Here's what the "group think" of Clear Channel and Cumulus will buy you.

1. One rating book a year in 50 under-top 100 markets which is really giving a rejuvenated meaning to less is more. Fewer books, less information upon which advertisers can make decisions. Sounds like a win-win to me.

2. Cheaper rates.

3. No Arbitron numbers to fall back on -- 50 Cumulus markets are not going to use Arbitron and Clear Channel will subscribe in 17 of the 50 markets where they have stations. Talk about betting the farm on this service. At least we're not in an economic downturn or anything -- right?

4. Cheaper rates.

5. A new methodology that will use old paper diaries (sounds new to me, how about you?). This variation is a peel and paste sticker methodology that Nielsen is using in many of its worldwide markets. That's better than a scratch and sniff sticker because diary keepers might be likely to vote that radio programming today stinks due to cutbacks and lack of creativity.

6. Cheaper rates.

7. A new address-based sampling method instead of the old random digital calling approach. This is thought to be the workaround for the telephone placed diary method which has been adversely affected by a decrease in land line telephones. Panelists will also provide information on consumer products that stations hope they can use with advertisers. That's one-year old information at the end of the rating book life cycle, remember? Now that's an improvement. Nielsen has agreed to use between 1,200 and 2,200 respondents but Arbitron agreed to up their totals as well.

8. Cheaper rates.

Look, I have nothing against Nielsen or any other competition for that matter. I think Arbitron has done a credible job although I agree that it could do better and price is always an issue. Arbitron is what advertisers want -- not that radio cares about what advertisers want.

But the Cumulus move is not all about better ratings. It's about cheaper ratings. Cheaper, like in everything radio operators do today.

And it's not wrong on its face to want to cut expenses, but cutting off your nose to spite your face is wrong. A bad strategic decision.

Whether radio CEOs will admit it or not, they have run this business into the ground. They have consistently fought the wrong battles.

Satellite Radio -- their imagined competitor from the heavens.

Internet Streaming
-- by their relative lack of support for efforts to gain a fair and just royalty fee for Internet stations. Shortsighted because Internet radio will overtake terrestrial radio and their inaction will cost them on the back side when terrestrial operators will be forced into the Internet streaming business to cover its losses.

HD Radio -- Talk about a money waster.

Local vs Redundant Programming -- Cheaper wins again as stations flock to syndicated shows, show sharing among group owned stations and vanilla voice tracked formats.

Morning Shows -- The most popular and productive daypart has been ravaged by these maniacs who think they can build a better morning show for less money and fewer people.

Someone please tell Cumulus, Clear Channel and Nielsen that radio is dying. And that they are representative of what's killing it.

Radio needs a new ratings service right now like it needs another Clear Channel.

This small market ratings debacle is going to blow up in their faces because radio doesn't need better ratings or even cheaper ratings.

It needs new and better programming -- that most owners are unwilling to invest in -- so whatever rating service they are propping up at any given moment can show lots of new audience.

You don't take the pulse of a dead person.

And you don't change your ratings without changing your commitment to what's on your air.

You can buy this sham if you want, but to me it is indicative of the thinking that made radio a loss leader instead of a growth industry.

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