Monday, May 10, 2010

Audience Research - The Future - The Sample

The land line phone and a random sample from the general population taken from the phone number listings has been the base for research since the late 50s.   Since radio really didn't get into ratings till the 60s and audience research in the 70s we started in the telephone era and for the most part haven't evolved much.

Now the world has obviously changed and the tides of radio research are also on the verge of changing.

First we have the land line telephone - which is quickly dying.   We are now at over 25% of the population who don't even have a land line and in some demos it's nearly 40%.  The number of Cell Phone converts grows every day and we can't call them on their cells.   Arbitron has begun the shift to try and integrate more and more cell phone households into the sample frame, but has our perceptual and music testing research?  It's not become a widespread practice, because it's hard to try and set up systems to reach cell phone only households for a survey done 1 or 2 times year.

2nd the audience has clearly changed the way they communicate.  Written snail mail and actually talking on a phone (cell or land line) are both evolving to new worlds.   With the internet we communicate in a whole new world from email to text messaging to social networks and many more evolutions to come at the speed of the internet where every 18 months we see innovations all over the place.  But, how do we communicate or research our audience?  While we have dabbled in on-line music testing, some station database questions, and maybe a few have actually done an on line perceptual test most of the time we still talking on the  phone and punching the responses into a CATI software program.

The new answers may well lie in managed panels.  Really a phone listing is a form of a managed panel of households that have phones.  In this case the panels could be built from a wide collection of on-line sources and serve as a sample base to draw from.   There are managed panels all over the place already that we could tap into and use that base to reach out on many platforms on line to gather the data.  We have started to use them for some online music testing and a few questions from our station databases, but our valid concern is just talking to our fans and not the whole market.

We also have to take a look at the new world of PPM.   This is really a managed panel of the market that is carrying around the meters for months and even years.  It's different from the old random draw of the sample that took place every week.   Here the sample is pulled with only a few replacements every week or month.  Instead of getting a snapshot of a few people's listening habits for a week we get a full length movie of them over 6 months, a year and maybe even 18 months.

Radio research used to rely on the random sample and in today's world trying to poll everyone doesn't yield enough specific information for us to work with.  More and more we need to stratify the sample and narrow the vision to those we have a chance to reach with our products when we do audience research for perceptual and music surveys.

There are panels out there, the key is grooming them so we can use them to research our product.  Many others have already started.  NASCAR, PPG, the auto companies, and many of the major retailers already work hard to grow panels that they can rely on to help them keep momentum with the audience on their products.   We need to start to find ways to make this work on much bigger scale than just our newsletter email list.

We also need to start asking new questions to learn more about behavior and not just about what they remember of our products.   We'll cover some thoughts there in a few days.   Feel free to chime in and contribute your thoughts on these topics.  Everyone's help will be needed.

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