The results of a recent technology poll by Jacobs Media shows a "crisis for Arbitron" while trying to reach cell phone only listeners. The poll shows that 17 percent of Americans now fall into the cell phone only category, but that number rises when looking at specific demos, as one-third of 18-29 year-olds indicated that were cell phone only and 19 percent of 30-34 year-olds also report being in this group.
Broken down by format, Modern Rock/Alternative stations are feeling the most impact, as 28 percent fall into the cell phone only category, while even one in ten Classic Rockers have cancelled their land line service.
To accentuate how the Modern Rock format, in particular, is being hit by Arbitron's lack of ability to reach cell phone youth, Jacobs Media broke out 18-29 year-olds from the study "to determine whether there’s a story regarding cell phone only respondents and the formats they patronize." The poll showed that 18-29 year-olds that have gone the cell phone only route "have a greater likelihood to be partisan to an Alternative station."
"After reviewing the numbers, our conclusion was that these findings illustrate a crisis for Arbitron, particularly as their methodology falls short among younger listeners," wrote Jacobs Media President Fred Jacobs in an email accompanying a release on the study.
Meanwhile, Arbiton VP/Communications Thom Mocarsky tells FMQB that "there are a lot of numbers flying around out there. The best estimate we have, as of a February 2004 census, is that the number is around 7 percent. That's not to say the number isn't changing and growing, but that's the number we have to work with." Mocarsky also pointed out that Arbitron "has done more studies on this issue than any other research company out there" and has made great efforts to get cell phone only households, citing the address-based placement of PPMs in the Houston market.
The Jacobs Media memo was sent to the Arbitron Advisory Council, which discussed the issue at length during a recent meeting in Washington, D.C., and Jacobs is "urging industry professionals who program, manage, oversee, or own an Alternative station, in particular, to contact their Advisory Council reps, their Arbitron reps, or anyone else they know inside the company to share their views on this issue. The move to cell phone only status is clearly more prevalent among younger listeners, but it affects older listeners, too, and is a sign of things to come. A ratings company that fails to survey a significant portion of the audience needs to rethink its policies and methodologies."
Jacobs added, "The future of radio depends on companies and stations that make an effort to reach young listeners. As we know, new technology – cell phones, MP3 players, videogames, the Internet – compete for eyes and ears. It is critically important that Arbitron speed up its plans and strategy development for surveying young listeners."
The Jacobs Media study was done by using an all-client Web poll that covered technology oriented issues. Over 50 radio stations were included, representing Alternative, Active, Mainstream, and Classic Rock/Hits formats from all over the country, including markets as large as Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago, as well as listeners in towns as small as Hagerstown, Fort Wayne, and Burlington. Overall, more than 19,000 surveys were collected.
"While some may view this survey as being limited to members of station databases, let me remind you that these listeners are the 'gold card members' – strong, regular, engaged listeners," said Jacobs. "The Edison/Mitofsky exit polling from last November’s election echoed these findings among young voters. Finally, our focus groups confirm that many people are seriously considering dropping their home phone/land line service, so our belief is that these numbers are growing as you read this memo."