Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Never Listen to Celine

This New York Times story gets to the heart of methodology.
American men have a naughty little secret. Sometimes, they like to relax with a little CĂ©line Dion. Professed classical music fans have one, too: as it turns out, they don’t tune into classical radio nearly as much as they claim.
Turns out, new measures of listening -- away from surveys and more to boxes that measure actual audience behavior -- finds out something we've always known.

People lie.

Okay, not so much lie as fib.  My dad always told me people lie about three things: did you go to church, did you vote, and what gas mileage does your car get.  My corollary on gas mileage is, the higher the cost of gas, the more SUV owners lie about their mileage.  When gas was $4 a gallon in the U.S., people with fat rolling boxes lied through their teeth about their mileage.

Back to radio listening, or to be honest, any media consumption habits.

As someone who got tenure thanks to research on talk radio, I found the next part interesting.
Talk radio, a largely conservative format, turns out to have fewer fans than previously thought. Talk radio’s market share declined 2.6 percent in the study of areas where the meters were used.
There's a lot more here to examine, but the basic methodological point is simple: self-reported behaviors in surveys are often the best measure we have, but they're blunt instruments at best, with lots of random (and non-random) error.  We often answer in ways that make us feel good about ourselves, which has classical music fans a bit worried since the new numbers show fewer listeners to this genre of music than we thought.

There's even a race card.  You knew there had to be.
The makeup and size of Arbitron’s sample is an issue for some Hispanic and urban broadcasters, who say metered readings undercount minority audiences and hurt their stations disproportionately. Mr. Adams of Arbitron said the company was responding to concerns by adding more panelists who had cellphones rather than landlines, and investing in in-person coaching to make sure all panel members use the devices correctly.
In other words, the new (better) system finds fewer viewers and listeners of "ethnic" programming, which includes everything from AM radio to BET programs.  It's fascinating stuff, proof that methodology can have real-world implications.

Oh, and I never listen to Celine. Ever. Measure it any way ya want, buckos, and it ain't gonna happen.

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