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Radio/How accurate is the audience rating?

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Question
Dear Sir,

I keep hearing about how a certain radio channel lost its audience, while another gains more. "Radio Scotland has lost 40,000 listeners; Radio Tees has found a remarkable 43,000, and Radio Cymru has added 10,000."

But how accurate are these audience ratings?

Thank you

Answer
The ratings services have their own error ratio ("Plus or minus 5%" or whatever) and only they know what the margin of error is.  Statistically, the bigger the survey group the smaller the
margin of error, so the question is how big survey is or how many people were surveyed.  Oftentimes, the ratings services look at sheer numbers and not the dedication or loyalty of the
viewing or listening public, which is why a letter-writing campaign or some sort of show of force
of the audience out there is enough to force a network to reconsider.  One thing they do not take lightly, however.  If there were three TV shows, for example and the one at 8:00 had a million people watching, the one at 8:30 had only 200,000 but then the one at 9 pm had 1.5 million, that means people TUNED OUT basically for the 8:30 show and then tuned back in, which means people
were avoiding the show in-between.  Networks would not hesitate to cancel a show like that or
simply move it to see if a change in day and time might help.  When a program loses the audience
of the show before it, it is called squandering the lead-in audience or audience erosion and
networks like to keep the audience level pretty consistent over the course of a network's
evening programming.  They also look to see where the audience gravitated.  If the other networks
experienced a bump in audience numbers from 8:30-9, then that means that the audience has gone
elesewhere, but then come back.  So, what usually happens is that the networks all copy what works.  This works in radio, TV,movies, etc.  At one point in TV, there were dozens of quiz shows.  When that ran its course, westerns were common and then when the appeal of that genre
ran out, something else came along to occupy hours of programming.

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Andy Blatt

Expertise

Questions regarding all aspects of radio (except for technical transmitter questions). Questions like formats, operations, sales, announcing.

Experience

College radio: program director and general manager, WCMO, Marietta; WMRT, Marietta (OH); Announcer, WPAR; WIBZ, Parkersburg, WV; Announcer, newscaster, WMOA, Marietta and announcer, copywriter, newscaster at WVOS, Liberty, NY. Announcer, newscaster, WERA, Plainfield, NJ and contributor to other stations, both online and broadcast

Education/Credentials
BA degree in Mass Media/Management (Radio/eTV & Business) at Marietta College; Courses in webpage design for the internet

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