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Why Ratings Are Bogus


Today, we are going to discuss why ratings are bogus. I would like to use stronger language to discuss this subject, but it wouldn’t be as coy, and the article would probably be rejected by you the reader. I would like to relate a true story of a ratings book that was delivered to an Orlando Florida sports radio station in June of 2001. You may be asking how I know the month? Simple, it was the day of the NBA draft, so to be exact the date was June 27, 2001. In this book, the station was told that of the 79,000 cumulative listeners weekly, that the station had exactly 1 African American listener. Now bear in mind this station was the broadcast partner for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, The Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles and UCF Knights. Plus it also broadcast MLB, NASCAR and of course this night they were doing a live NBA draft program. They also had daily sports talk programs. So with all of the sports programming and sports talk shows they had exactly 1 African American listener. If you took a look at the demographics for Orlando, 25.1% of the population is African American. So wouldn’t it make some sense to say that at least 20,000 potential listeners each week could be African American? If the ratings book were being more accurate wouldn’t it be possible for 6-8,000 weekly listeners to be African American? That would be just 8% of the listenership being African American. Now ask yourself if you were the provider of the ratings info, which is utilized by the station to get business, or set rates, and charges the station a subscription fee, how could you, in good conscience, send out a book that obviously had inaccurate information. While we understand this is not the Holy Bible, in the advertising industry many people treat it as if it is.

Maybe today, the question could be is the information any better than it was in 2001? The simple answer is no. So why do we believe the industry hasn’t changed. Let’s take a look at the ways that the ratings are calculated and how the information is gathered.

  • People Meters – measurement in 25 markets  out of 210 DMA’s
  • Set Meters- measurement in 31 markets out of 210 DMA’s
  • Code Reader – measurement in 14 markets out of 210 DMA’s
  • Paper Diaries – Used in markets where other readers are not available or only for radio where other readers are available

When looking at this reporting agency they only take precise info from 1/3 of the DMA’s in the United States. Now let’s proceed to the second part. According to their website they poll a total of 250,000 households in 25 countries to gain their information. If they were polling 250,000 households in the US, a country with over 125,820,000 households, would be polling less than 0.2% of the market. How can you get any clear results when you are polling less that .2% of the households? We understand statistics and so on, but it would take far greater numbers to get a clear result pattern. Plus consider the different demos in each market.

  • P 2+
  • P 12+
  • P 25-54
  • P 35-54
  • P 65+
  • M 18+
  • M 25-54
  • M 35-54
  • M 65+
  • W 18+
  • W 25-54
  • W 35-54
  • W 65+
  • White
  • Hispanic
  • African American
  • Etc.

How many people would you need a diary from to gain a clear and precise ratings report? If you wanted a clear report just for Orlando you would need at least 6,000 participants. There are 210 DMA’s, so each DMA can only have an average of 1,190 respondents. Obviously, larger markets will have more, but this is the average.  Wouldn’t they need to divide the books per the population. So at least 1,500 diary’s would go to the African American population. Let’s say that this reporting agency did just that, now the next flaw is the diary.

What is a diary exactly? Below are the instructions on filling out a diary.







We will not go into each step fully, or all of the questions they ask, however; consider just steps 3 and 4. They need to know who watched what and when. So how do they get it? They have the participant complete their viewing report for each channel that is watched for more than 5 minutes, for each 15 minute segment for their viewing day. Think about each 15 minute segment of your viewing day, could you keep an accurate log of what you watched when? Now consider the different segments of the market. For a complete report you need a sampling from each age demo, sex and ethnicity. Consider people under the age of 25. How many will take their time to complete the diary accurately? This segment of the market is generally very busy. They are generally working, going to school, caring for children and may be newly married. All of these require time and dedication, at the end of the day they sit and try to recall when and what they watched or listened to during the day. Isn’t this asking a great deal of someone. Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum, a 45 year old worker. While they have more time generally, are they going to take that time to keep an accurate diary? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s look at the 50 year old household making $125,000 plus. are they going to take any time to complete the diary? They obviously aren’t going to be swayed by the money for keeping the diary. So once again, probably not. So can anyone look at these ratings and think they are accurate? Now, let’s take the 65+ year old couple. They are a little older and spend more time watching TV. They also are far more likely to have the time to complete their diary and keep it accurate. This is why a channel like Fox News performs so well each week.

diary example


So what about radio?  Think about the current climate for music delivery. Spotify, Pandora, Satellite radio and other apps, these services are built into the stereo system for many new cars. So if a younger audience can get any music they want, at any time through their car or smartphone, then how is a top 40 station consistently top in most markets? Is it because for years they were number one and now the reporting agencies are dismissing the lost listeners in the diaries? What I am suggesting is that if you have 20 years or more of books saying that top 40 performs best then how do you start saying a talk or classic rock station is now best in the market? We do know statistically, that older generations are set in their ways a little more. They generally won’t listen to newer music, plus they are less likely to use new technology and will continue to listen to a station they are familiar with. This means that for the books to be accurate, soon we will need to start seeing classic rock stations in the top 3 stations in each market.


So then why would we put any stock into an expensive report that is just hogwash? The answer is we shouldn’t . We need to discontinue using a diary or any report to figure out what is best for the client. We know that certain shows and programs will garner a specific demo. So if we want the demo, don’t waste time with bad reports, just buy the program or network needed to gain the audience we want.