Arbitron watches radio listeners. The top provider of radio station audience ratings in the US, Arbitron surveys radio listeners in hundreds of local markets throughout the country. Its survey reports measure not only what stations people are listening to but also demographic information about those listeners, including income, lifestyles, and shopping habits. Thousands of radio stations and advertising agencies subscribe to Arbitron's services. In addition to radio ratings data, Arbitron offers market research for cable TV, Internet, and outdoor advertising customers. The company traces its radio ratings roots to around 1965. In 2012 Arbitron agreed to be acquired by Nielson Holdings for $1.26 billion.
The radio broadcasting industry has undergone substantial consolidation over the past decade, meaning that there are fewer station groups to which Arbitron can market its services. However, consolidation also has meant more individual stations are subscribing to its service as they are acquired by these larger groups. Broadcasting giant Clear Channel Communications accounts for about 20% of the company's sales each year.
Arbitron has historically performed its surveys through listening diaries that are filled out by selected participants, but the company has been investing in electronic devices called Portable People Meters (PPM) to get more accurate audience measurements. It first tested the cell phone-sized devices in the early 1990s and continued to develop them in partnership with TV ratings company Nielsen Media Research.
To strengthen its data quality, Arbitron added cell phone-only households into its diary market samples, improved the representation of 18- to 34-year-olds, and ramped up work on electronic and online alternatives to the paper-and-pencil diary. Overall, Arbitron is leveraging its leading position in the radio industry to expand its market research activities into new areas such as satellite radio, broadcast television, Internet broadcasts, and mobile media. In order to strengthen its position in the emerging mobile sphere, in 2011 Arbitron bought Zokem Oy, a Finland-based mobile audience measurement and analytics firm, for around $12 million in cash.