Home > Pandora, PPM, Ratings, State of research > In-Car Listening: the Black Hole of Radio Ratings

In-Car Listening: the Black Hole of Radio Ratings

With all the hand-wringing about new in-dash audio alternatives to radio, it’s amazing that we don’t really know how much time people spend listening to radio in the car.  

PPM doesn’t separate in-car listening from other out-of-home listening. And while diaries do break out in-car listening, the recorded “reality” of diary measurement neither matches listener perceptions nor what PPM seems to show, albeit from behind the curtain. 

If you ask them, most North Americans will tell you that at least 50% of the time they spend listening to radio is done in the car. But diaries typically show that just over a third of all listening takes place in the car.

Meanwhile, although PPM generally shows the same overall split as the diary for in-home and out-of-home listening, it actually shows higher out-of-home listening on evenings and weekends than the diary. It’s safe to assume that most of this evening and weekend listening is not happening at work, but rather in the car—during the trip to the grocery store or while you take the kids to soccer—those occasions that you’re not likely to recall a week later when you’re filling out a diary. This makes you wonder just how much out-of-home tuning that PPM records during the workday is actually at work listening—and how much represents in-car listening when you’re running errands or going to meetings out of the office that again wouldn’t be recalled or in turn recorded in a diary.

All of this suggests that we should probably be crediting more radio listening to the car than what our ratings systems—or, more specifically, the diary system— have traditionally led us to believe. And, as commuting times grow ever longer, this means the car becomes an even more important competitive arena for radio listening.

Should PPM-rated stations design and target their programming to the in-car listener, and promote usage of listening to their station in the car—much like Lite Rock stations were built for the workplace and promoted to reach the at work listener? And just how should radio react when it comes to sizing up and dealing with the potential impact of Pandora and other new audio alternatives in the car?

We need to add an accurate accounting of in-car listening to the ‘to do’ list of our ratings services—ideally somewhere near the very top.

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