Thursday, August 14, 2008

KIIS-FM rises to No. 1 over KFI-AM in first metered Arbitron radio ratings for L.A. area

Arbitron's switch to electronic devices for listeners scrambles the rankings for July.

By Steve Carney, Special to The Times
August 14, 2008

Spanish-language stations don't dominate the Los Angeles-Orange County market as once thought, while oldies and Top 40 stations are even more popular than believed -- at least according to figures from a new radio rating system released Wednesday.

Arbitron, the rating service, released the first figures for the local area using its new electronic method of measuring listeners, while phasing out its decades-old diary system. The new method surveyed listeners in July, compared with the spring diary, which measured audience habits from April to June.

In July, Top 40 station KIIS-FM (102.7) ran far ahead of the field, snagging an average of 5.8% of the audience ages 12 and older, while second-place KFI-AM (640), the talk station, garnered 4.4%. In the prior rating period, KIIS was second with a 4.9% share and KFI was tied for fourth with 4%.Meanwhile, Spanish-language pop station KLVE-FM (107.5) fell out of the top spot it held in the spring, when it captured 5.6% of the local audience, finishing in sixth place with 4%. Its sister station, regional Mexican music outlet KSCA-FM (101.9), fell from third in the spring, at 4.4%, to seventh in July, at 3.7%, where it tied with adult-contemporary KOST-FM (103.5).

The news wasn't all bad for Spanish-language broadcasters, however: Regional Mexican music station KLAX-FM (97.9) rose from 10th to ninth, increasing its audience share from 3.2% to 3.6%.

Arbitron's new system for calculating the ratings uses Portable People Meters, or PPMs, pager-sized devices that listeners wear all day and that keep track of what stations they hear and for how long. The company says they're more accurate than the diary system, in which survey participants wrote down their radio consumption for the week, usually relying on memory for what they'd listened to each day.

Arbitron has been testing the system here and in other markets; the PPMs have been in official use in Philadelphia and Houston since last year. In both of those cities, the results startled many broadcasters: The meters showed, in many cases, that broadcasters had many more listeners than the diaries gave them credit for, and shuffled the previous station rankings like a deck of cards.

The meters appear to have done the same in Los Angeles. According to the July PPM figures, oldies station KRTH-FM (101.1) took third place with 4.3% of the audience, compared with its 11th-place showing in the spring, at 3.1%. Alternative rocker KROQ-FM (106.7) took fourth with 4.2%, compared to seventh place and 3.5% in the spring, and rock station KCBS-FM (93.1) rounded out the top five with 4.1% -- quite a change from its 2.2% and 16th-place showing in the spring.

Hip-hop KPWR-FM (105.9), on the other hand, fell from a tie for fourth in the spring, at 4%, to a tie for 14th in July, at 2.9%.

Spanish-language stations showed declines in Houston, and that was repeated in many instances here. Univision, which owns outlets in both markets, already has raised questions about whether Arbitron's new group of rating subjects is an accurate demographic reflection of the population.

But the rating numbers don't necessarily indicate that any of the stations are suddenly more or less popular than they were in the spring -- the changes could be just a function of the differences in the survey methods.

In the diaries, listeners often marked down that they stayed tuned to their favorite stations for long blocks of time, either forgetting or not bothering to mention that they switched around here and there. That discrepancy inflated some stations' audience-share figures while undercutting others. But the increased accuracy of the Portable People Meters reveals listeners' tendency to flip around the dial, thus undercutting the audience-share claims of some stations.

The PPM statistics for July also showed huge increases in stations' raw audience numbers -- in some cases doubling them, a phenomenon seen in the other markets where the PPMs had been introduced. In the spring Arbitron diary, for example, KIIS averaged just under 2 million listeners a week. The July PPM put that figure at 3.48 million. KRTH grew from 1.19 million to 2.46 million.

Even KLVE, despite its tumble from first to sixth, had more listeners than previously thought. Its cumulative weekly audience appeared to increase from just over 1 million, according to the spring diary, to 2.06 million, according to the July PPM.

But even with that rise, the loss of diarists who over-reported the amount of time spent listening may have cost the station the audience percentages it once enjoyed.

Greg Strassell, senior vice president of programming for CBS Radio, which in Los Angeles owns KROQ, KCBS, KRTH and four other stations, said the numbers from Portable People Meters are a testament to the overall health of the radio industry. "It's been a very positive lesson: We really reach more people than we thought," he said.

The new ratings still won't be official, though, until October. Then Arbitron will allow stations to combine the figures from July, August and September, and use those quarterly rankings in their pitches to advertisers.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Radio will get meter readings

Rankings may see a shake-up as the data-gathering service shifts from diaries to wearable signal meters.

By Steve Carney, Special to The Times
August 12, 2008

A multimillion-dollar industry that relied on the honor system to determine its income will turn a page this week.

On Wednesday, radio stations in Los Angeles and Orange County will get their ratings for the first time from a new electronic monitoring system, replacing the decades-old method in which listeners scribbled in a diary what they'd been tuning in to.

"Sometimes what you listen to isn't always what you recall three days later," said Greg Strassell, senior vice president of programming for CBS Radio, which owns KROQ-FM (106.7), KCBS-FM (93.1) and five other stations in the L.A area. "Rather than guessing how listeners were listening, this is actual info we can use. This is why program directors are very excited."

That excitement is mixed with unease, though, as stations in other markets where the methodology switch already has been made saw dramatic shifts in their rankings, and in the number of listeners they thought they had.

Replacing the diaries are new measuring devices called Portable People Meters, or PPMs, pager-sized units that survey participants wear throughout the day. They record inaudible signals that identify what radio station the person is listening to, when and for how long. Now every station he or she hears will get credit, including whatever is blaring from a neighbor's car stereo at the stoplight or the background soundtrack at the hair salon.

"With electronic measurement, you take away the burden of someone having to remember every time they're in contact with a radio station," said John Snyder, vice president of Portable People Meter sales for Arbitron, the ratings service. "You definitely remember your two or three favorite stations. With PPM, you also get four, five and six."

The ad-dollar base

The ratings are no mere popularity contest. The stations use those audience figures to determine what to charge advertisers. And there's no place where those calculations are more important than in the Los Angeles-Orange County market, home to the top two money-making radio stations in the country. KROQ took in $67.6 million last year, and KIIS-FM (102.7) $65.9 million, according to the trade journal Radio & Records. In fact, L.A. boasted five of the top seven, with KFI-AM (640) ranking fourth, and KCBS and KOST-FM (103.5) finishing sixth and seventh.

But for years those millions in income, based on precious tenths of ratings points, rose and fell based on the diary entries of a few thousand survey participants, relying on memory and honesty to mark what stations they listened to and when. And stations played to that, pumping money into contests or promotions, if they needed a ratings boost, to grab the attention of listeners, hoping that memory would stick come diary time.

"The old system was archaic," said Greg Ashlock, L.A.-area president of Clear Channel Communications, the nation's largest radio chain, which owns KIIS, KFI, KOST and five other stations in the market. Any anxiety over this new way to measure something so vital is balanced by the enthusiasm "that we know what we have is more accurate," he said.

Snyder said one problem with the diaries is the tendency of listeners to round up. They write that they tuned in from 9 a.m. to 9:30 or 10, instead of reflecting that they actually listened to a station from 9:07 to 9:25, then switched when a commercial came on, tuned back at 9:37, but tuned out again when that song they hated started playing.

The PPM will capture all that activity. Strassell said it provides "real feedback -- minute by minute, almost -- as to what works and what doesn't."

Arbitron started developing the PPMs in 1992 and hopes to have them in the top 50 markets by 2010. The service is already being used in Philadelphia and Houston, and results from those cities and preliminary data from Los Angeles have given broadcasters some surprises.

According to spring 2008 ratings for Los Angeles, the last using the diary method, KIIS had a weekly audience of about 2 million. A June PPM demonstration put that figure at nearly 3.5 million. And while the diaries credited KOST and KRTH-FM (101.1) with weekly audiences of more than 1 million each, PPM showed they each had more than 2.5 million listeners.

"By and large, it's a more accurate way of monitoring how people truly do listen to the radio," said Bill Davis, president of Southern California Public Radio, which operates KPCC-FM (89.3). "The overall audience is actually much larger, but time spent listening is going to be less. People change the channel a lot more frequently than they did in the paper diaries."

But not everyone is welcoming the new system or taking for granted its accuracy. In Houston, for example, the meters were particularly hard on Spanish-language stations.

KLTN-FM, a Univision-owned outlet for regional Mexican music, ranged from second to fourth place in the diary-based ratings in 2006 and 2007. In the first survey using PPMs, KLTN plunged to 13th. Other Spanish-language stations saw similar drops.

"It's not that I didn't expect to see those differences, but it's way beyond that," said Ceril Shagrin, Univision's executive vice president for corporate research. "We continue to be very, very concerned about Arbitron's samples and the reliability of the data."

Univision has much at stake in Los Angeles, home of the nation's largest pool of Latino listeners, where it owns the No. 1 and No. 3 stations in the market -- KLVE-FM (107.5) and KSCA-FM (101.9) -- according to the spring ratings.

Shagrin questioned whether Arbitron's pool of PPM wearers is truly mirroring the demographics of the markets they're surveying. Arbitron spokesman Thom Mocarsky said the declines merely reflect the differences between the diaries and the PPMs.

"Spanish-speaking Hispanics spend more time with radio than other groups," he said. "And the rounding effect on the diary occurs more with people who listen more."

Stations react to data

Another difference between the methods is the number of people involved. On any given day during the spring survey, an average of 595 people were filling out diaries in the L.A. market. With the PPMs, Arbitron expects a daily average of about 2,750 people. At the end of each day, they plug the unit into a modem, which uploads the data to Arbitron.

Anticipating what Ashlock called "the PPM world," Clear Channel took the initiative and changed some of its formats earlier this year. "Based on the results from Houston, there was a little bit more male listening than the diaries were giving credit for, so we decided to shift one of our stations a little more male," he said.

So KYSR-FM (98.7) dropped its "Star" moniker, shipped female-friendly artists, such as Jewel and John Mayer, to sister station KBIG-FM (104.3) and adopted a more aggressive persona and playlist. On Wednesday, the station will find out if its male audience is actually out there.