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The rise of Web-oriented behavioral targeting and the tough economics and unwieldiness of user diaries and phone calls have pushed radio rating giant Arbitron to focus less on radio station ranking and more on providing qualitative data about specific local businesses. The shift might have ramifications across all media, especially in smaller markets.

Leveraging its ownership of Scarborough Research, Arbitron’s new effort will focus on sending out extensive media usage booklets to consumers on a shared cost basis. Studies can have smaller bases, and will be done once, rather than four times, a year. Costs will be shared among local media participants.

Arbitron’s position is that people’s habit’s “don’t change that much” quarter by quarter.

The consequences are that stations won’t be able to use Arbitron data to assert their ranking in the marketplace. Bankers need that data to value radio stations. But advertisers don’t really. In fact, the qualitative data about local media and advertisers may be more effective in station pitches. With the new approach, radio sales pitchers can note,: ‘I have some market data in Charlottesville about your customers,’ including gender, married and Internet access modes.” It is a more specific guide to buying media and targeting consumers than putting out balloons on Saturdays.

The studies will also have more impact than behavioral targeting, which can be overly generic and not provide information about retailers.

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