Michael Robertson, CEO of DAR.fm
OTTAWA, Ontario — DAR.fm is a free “DVR for radio” website. Listeners can select and record their favorite radio shows on DAR.fm’s server. They can then listen to those shows on any Web-connected computer or smartphone, at their convenience. At present, DAR.fm listeners download 30 million minutes of content a month.
DAR.fm CEO Michael Robertson compiles accurate statistics on each show’s popularity, based on the number of plays it has received in the past 30 days. This data is displayed on each show’s selection page, in the same way that YouTube displays “number of views” for each of its video.
Here’s where it gets interesting: “The listening trends we’ve been seeing, as a result of our data collection, contradict three of the most widely held beliefs about talk radio,” said Robertson. “Our conclusions are based on hard numbers, where many of these beliefs are based on ‘fuzzy’ metrics, like quarter hours and market share.”
Not just conservatives
At present, DAR.fm’s Top 10 shows are dominated by U.S. talk radio shows, such as conservatives Rush Limbaugh (number one with 30,475 plays over 30 days) and Glenn Beck (number two with 20,432 plays in 30 days).
But surprise: Coming in at number three with 16,531 plays in 30 days is Rachel Maddow, a liberal commentator with MSNBC. The next liberal in the Top 10 is Ed Schultz with 6,820 plays in 30 days. “Based on conventional wisdom, you would expect conservative talk show hosts to own the Top 10,” said Robertson. “But based on the actual program plays on DAR.fm, liberal-leaning hosts own half of this market.”
Of course, DAR.fm’s results are not large enough to be generalized to the entire radio industry. But they do raise some interesting questions, as Robertson readily pointed out. “Is the interest in liberal talk radio hosts that we’re seeing on DAR.fm proof that there’s a market for more liberal talk radio?” he asked. “Or is it a case of people seeking out these shows on the Web, simply because they are not as widely distributed as conservative talk shows? We don’t know — but the fact that Rachel Maddow is number three is something that broadcasters should be paying attention to.”
Rachel Maddow’s Page on DAR.fm
Conservative commentator Dana Loesch’s “The Dana Show” is only broadcast on KFTK 97.1 FM in St. Louis, Missouri and WIBC 93.1 FM in Indianapolis, Indiana. Neither are big markets compared to New York and Los Angeles — and The Dana Show’s two station distribution pales against Rush Limbaugh’s 600-plus stations. Nevertheless, Dana Loesch ranks 18 on DAR.fm with 2,034 plays over 30 days. Sportscaster Tony Kornheiser is known for his strong opinions, which are aired exclusively on WTEM(AM) and its FM translators in the Washington area. Yet Kornheiser has won the number 28 spot at DAR.fm with 2,094 plays in 30 days.
“These are people who don’t have the same exposure and promotion backing them as Limbaugh, Beck and Maddow, yet people are listening to them on DAR.fm,” Robertson said. “This means that Loesch and Kornheiser are creating a buzz that reaches beyond their broadcast base, both through their online activities and word-of-mouth.”
For radio broadcasters seeking new talent, popular non-network hosts are a natural choice for syndication and network distribution. The plays being scored by Loesch and Kornheiser on DAR.fm indicate that they would do well if exposed to a wider audience. Podcasts Are Not Popular “We do offer podcasts on DAR.fm,” said Robertson. “But by and large, people far prefer to record live programs and then play them back in real time, than to download and listen to podcasts.”
He isn’t sure why this is the case. “But I do know that, when given the choice, our users listen to recorded shows on their PCs and smartphones, streamed as linear content.” Robertson is the first to admit that, compared to the ratings gathered by Arbitron and other audience research firms, DAR.fm’s data base is relatively small. “The advantage we offer is that our data, being based on Internet usage measurement, is precise and solid,” he said. “We know how many people listened to which shows and for how long. Our data can be quantified.”
The real significance of DAR.fm’s approach to audience measurement is it offers an alternative way to evaluate program performance, audience preferences, and the emergence of new talent. For broadcasters wanting to supplement the traditional ratings system with additional and possibly more meaningful data, DAR.fm’s “plays per month” system is worth looking at, and perhaps adapting to their own needs.
James Careless reports on the industry for Radio World from Ottawa, Ontario.