Monday, August 23, 2010

In Trenches of Audience Metrics

As published in Talkers Magazine - June 2010

In Trenches of Audience Metrics
Internet radio lights a way for talk radio
By Linda Mackenzie

LOS ANGELES ––Numbers! Numbers! Numbers! Shrouded in mystery of sample sizes and extrapolated numbers has there ever been a real count of audience size? It’s the never ending bane of radio – even in my arena as General Manager of an Internet-only talk network.

The real internet radio pioneers started broadcasting in the late 1990s. As a former 18 year datacom engineer with an 8 year stint as a talk radio host I started my internet radio network in 2002. At that time the majority of people knew very little about internet radio, however today, according to the Bridge Ratings Feb 1, 2010 study, Internet radio’s audience size is about 60 million a week.

Being in radio you can imagine the effort it took in 2002 to get quality talk hosts and listeners, much less advertisers. By 2004 when I started streaming 24/7 our audience numbers grew. Numbers now became part of my equation to get advertisers who were weaned on audience metrics. Being that old datacom engineer I set out on my quest to find real numbers.

I can remember being at the RAIN internet radio meeting held at the NAB 2004 Convention. The web-based radio audience size at that time was about 40 million a month. After the Arbitron presentation, I raised my hand and asked them a couple of questions which were perplexing to me at the time. “How can Arbitron determine numbers using an infinitesimally small sample size in comparison to overall audience size, how could these numbers reflect the listening audience of my particular talk station and why did I need Arbitron when as an Internet-only station I have actual numbers?” At that point the moderator came up to the podium and said, “We’re going to take a short break.” My mouth was agape as they walked off the stage leaving my questions unanswered amidst a plethora of murmurings from the attending audience. The speaker from Arbitron, who was extremely nice, came over to talk to me during the break and ended up by asking me questions.

Unlike any other broadcast medium, internet radio can get actual audience counts today.

This data is available on streaming servers. A streaming server can get the actual listener’s IP address, how long they listened from the time they log on to the stream to the time they log off, and even the zip code. All that information can be captured into what is known as the streaming server log. Administrators can specify how much or how little information they wish to capture into the server’s log file. All the way down to every last event or transaction that occurs.

However, processing the log to glean the desired information is quite time consuming and therefore expensive.

In 2004 our numbers were smaller and I received reports from my streaming aggregator displaying all this data. We had a 50 State breakdown, what cities in those States by listener count and how long they were listening. At that time we went to 108 countries with 82% of our numbers coming from 1,240 cities in all 50 states. We also had a count of our on-demand archived shows which are real streaming server numbers based on the individual retrieval of the listeners IP address. We were getting 8,000to 10,000 listeners a month on our archive.

Today with so many listeners there is so much data in any given day that it is impossible to process it. It’s too time consuming to warrant the cost. So at this point in time, even though the data is there, no one processes it. But it’s just a matter of time before the solution on processing these individual transactions is found and then we will get real numbers.

This leads us to a bigger question, if real numbers were available would we really want them and would they be ‘true’ numbers?

Internet radio has the capacity to reach more listeners than any other method of single radio delivery.

My network is distributed (carried or rebroadcast) on over 50 channels of distribution including the internet, WiFi, smartphones, private radio networks, mobile, podcasts, in dashboard of the BMW Mini cars and we even are on an Iphone App for an alarm clock.

As to ‘true’ numbers, now here comes the rub. On the streaming server, each one of these 50 distribution channels appear as one individual IP address. The distribution channel picks up my stream, broadcasts it out 24/7 to their listeners, they get the audience metric - which I never see. Take the case of my network being 1 of 300 content providers on the Microsoft Windows Media Player Radio Tuner. That makes us available on every Windows Media Player in the world, but I don’t know how many people are listening. I would assume we are getting a lot since they haven’t thrown us off, but the bottom line is that it brings us back to extrapolated numbers, at least for distribution channels.

Now let’s throw into the muddy waters of radio measurement, the advertisers. The advertising agencies seem to want ‘Page Views’ as their preferred measurement of decision for placing their advertising dollars. Page views are the website statistics of how many people request the website, people who may or may not listen to the radio stream. Most advertisers are unaware that the actual numbers of listeners come from the streaming server.

However it is still my opinion that any Internet audience metric is infinitely more accurate and better, especially for talk radio, than a sampled base audience metric system that is geared towards music.

Internet radio websites provide the ability to get real listener demographics

In 2007 I realized that although I knew the listener count and could somewhat glean from our show topics my station’s approximate demographics I didn’t have a male/female composition split or any real measure of the age group breakouts. So I initiated the Listener Clubhouse. People sign up for the Clubhouse, answer a few demographic questions and I get a view of my actual demographics which I can apply to my overall listener numbers. Surveys and polls can also provide a method for audience demographic accumulation.

Talk radio hosts interaction with listeners is a real source of audience measurement.

When all is said and done the most important key to audience measurement are the talk show hosts themselves. As General Manager I know my hosts are the core to my whole operation whether this is reportable or not. Our hosts get the on-air phone calls, emails, mail, appearance requests and interaction with their unique listeners on the network’s radio stream and web site, the host’s website and both our network’s and their own social media sites. That’s a lot of potential for numbers. That’s a lot of feedback. The activity that we get and the phone calls, albeit the ones in the middle of the night, show me we are doing a good job at our first priority which is - the listener experience.

In these times where face-to-face and social interaction is being replaced by the computer, I believe the voice of talk radio is going to grow to fill that gap of this lost interaction. People need and relate to people – and that’s talk radio.
Automated music, which can be gotten in so many various forms on the internet other than radio, (and don’t get me started about .mp3 versions that are playing on air that cut off the bottom bass sound of a song) it is amazing to me how talk radio seems to be getting the short end of the stick when it comes to current measurement practices. Maybe it’s time to re-think the whole measurement company paradigm. The data is there we just have to find a way to process it.

Linda Mackenzie is the Founder and General Manager of HealthyLife.Net Radio Network ( She can be emailed at

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