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Arbitron E-Diary Testing Progresses

Audience research firm testing compatibility with different Web browsers, mobile platforms

As radio grapples with staying relevant and keeping up with the digital dashboard, ratings firm Arbitron finds that it too must adapt to changing conditions.

More young people are gravitating towards cellphone-only, rather than landline use, fueling the increased popularity of mobile devices.

Arbitron needs to keep up with those trends in terms of radio audience measurement and keep its survey methods relevant.

That’s why it’s been working to improve its diary methodology for small and medium markets, areas where it wouldn’t make sense economically to use its Portable People Meter to measure the radio audience.

Arbitron has been calling its diary improvement R&D “Project Leapfrog.”

With the current paper diary placement process, Arbitron mails several notices to prospective diary keepers, telling them the diary is coming and to fill it out. The firm also calls potential respondents to urge them to fill out the diary.

Leapfrog moves away from the phone to an online data collection process. Those invited in the mail to register do so online, and fill out an e-diary for seven days.

For Leapfrog, the audience research firm is testing Web and mobile diaries. “The ability to keep a diary on a mobile device is an important capability to have,” says Arbitron VP Diary Management Brad Feldhaus.

In a pilot test in five markets in 2011, Arbitron sent out invites to 11,000 households to register and fill out an e-diary. Some 1,455 households registered. Seventy-nine percent of those completed a seven-day diary. Eight percent asked for a paper diary.

The overall response rate was 8 percent, not enough for implementation, according to Arbitron VP Research Beth Webb. The company is looking for a completion rate somewhere in the mid-teens.

Several elements need to coincide for that to happen: The household needs to register and each person in the household needs to complete an e-diary for the full seven days.

In the testing so far, people either filled out the e-diary for one day or seven days, according to Webb.

More 18–35-year-olds and fewer 55+ filled out e-diaries compared to the sample population of the current diaries. In the test markets, “We got more younger adults. We’re encouraged by that,” said Webb. “This may be more in their comfort zone than a paper diary.”

Research goals for 2012 include increasing the response rate for Leapfrog, including increasing the numbers of household members who fill out the e-diaries and developing Spanish-language test materials. The company has been working with a consultant to conduct focus groups, tests and field work, in this regard, according to Feldhaus.

Overall, much testing remains to be done. Arbitron has lined up focus groups to determine test design, modifications and to test a Web and mobile app.

“There are a lot of platforms to work on. We’re trying to reach the general public … and get as large a group as possible,” said Feldhaus. “Our product needs to be able to work on different browser and mobile platforms. Then we’ll be able to go back in the field for an end-to-end test.”

The idea is someone could start filling out the diary on their laptop, tablet, phone or other mobile device, and then continue to fill it out on their desktop computer at work and vice-versa.

That versatility would also mean the survey period could begin on any day of the week, rather than the current Wednesday through Thursday survey period for the paper diary.