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Critics Charge that Arbitron Study Is Biased in Favor of Radio Consolidation

Dave Aiello wrote, "Reuters reported Tuesday that consumer rights groups are criticizing a new study of consolidation in the radio industry, produced by Arbitron, a media and market research firm with radio expertise. According to Reuters, the study reported that 79 percent of the listeners surveyed 'said they get more or the same amount of programming choices from local radio than they did five years ago'".

"The article contains quotes from the spokesman for a consumer rights group, the Future of Music Coalition, an organization critical of consolidation that has already taken place in the industry":

It's clearly in their best interest to say that radio is great.

The federal government is in the process of evaluating changes and potentially allowing further consolidation, while the broadcast industry has an obvious agenda to defend these changes and push for more.

Dave Aiello continued, "You would have to be incredibly naive to think that a study that says that relies on current listeners to subjectively judge the diversity of radio programming was indicative of successful evolution of the radio industry. What about people like me, who gave up on listening to music radio several years ago? The only sector of radio that seems to be growing from my perspective is talk radio, and that growth is primarily limited to politically conservative shows."

"Music radio appears to be controlled by large corporations that dominate station ownership and either outdoor advertising or concert promotion in each local media market. There is a steady stream of media reports that indicate that radio airplay is determined by promotional payments, the equivalent of supermarket slotting fees. This was once referred to as payola and was the subject of a number of federal investigations, dating back to the 1960s."

Read on for more....

Dave Aiello continued:

I could argue that the radio industry has figured out how to take advantage of the problems that are causing the decline of the recording industry. Radio stations have vertically integrated to take advantage of the promotional money spent by the recording industry to advertise its major acts. This has resulted in the homogenization of radio stations into very static formats. This has been done in order to allow the precise targeting of promotional efforts to specific types of listeners.

In individual markets, this has led to a severe lack of listener choice. If you live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, enjoy listening to country music, but dislike the format of radio station WXTU, you have no alternative on the AM or FM bands. This lack of diversity is what has caused people interested in listening to music on radio to defect in droves.

If there was true diversity of radio content, then services like XM Satellite Radio would not have any chance of succeeding in most populated parts of North America. Other alternatives, like streaming audio, would not have become as controversial as they did two or three years ago.

But, Arbitron wants consumers and legislators to believe that further consolidation of the radio industry is a good thing. I suggest that they prove it by showing increased aggregate listenership for English language music stations on a market-by-market basis over a long period of time. Until they do that, I'll continue to say that studies like this are propaganda. And, I'll continue to listen to news and talk shows when I'm in my car or at my desk in the office.

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