US market research agencies are struggling to recruit participants for their media surveys, raising the prospect of higher fees as more effective (and, needless to say, expensive) methods are employed.

The two major operators, Nielsen Media Research and Arbitron, both face consumer indifference. Arbitron, which measures radio audiences in 283 markets, saw the response rate to its survey drop to a twenty-year nadir of 32.6% in summer 2002, down from 34.4% the year before. The rate was just 27.5% in the twelve biggest markets.

One of Arbitron’s problems is that it relies on the diary system of data collection, which requires considerable effort to complete. Nielsen, which measures television ratings, uses such methods for local-TV in 209 markets. Its diary response rate in November was 32.1%, up only marginally from 32% the year before despite increased cash incentives.

“It's miserable,” declared Brad Adgate, senior vp and director of research at Horizon Media. “It's imperative that new technologies such as [Nielsen's] local people meter and [Arbitron's] portable people meter be rolled out.”

Nielsen also uses door-to-door recruitment, and both companies have tried fresh incentives in recent years. However, such tactics cost more. “Every year we introduce something new to increase response rates,” revealed David Lapovsky, Arbitron’s executive vp of research. “Last year, we spent more money than ever.”

Neither company has revealed how much of this extra cost is being charged to clients, but fees seem set to go up. “It is definitely getting to be more expensive,” declared David Poltrack, executive vp for research at TV network CBS, “for them and for us.”

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff