Tag Archives: Arbitron

The Winner Takes it ALL

108Everything old is new again. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase. “Everything old is new again” was the title of a song in the movie musical “All That Jazz.” Part of the lyrics to this Peter Allen/Carole Bayer Sager song include:

 

Don’t throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again

I might fa-all in love wi-ith you again

VADs

While I haven’t heard anyone call them this yet, I may be the first, I’m sure in time they will be referred to in this way, Voice Activated Devices.

You probably better know them as Amazon’s Echo, Google Home or Apple’s HomePod.

Amazon was first into this territory followed by Google and now Apple (their device will be available later in 2017). Microsoft recently announced they have partnered with Harmon Kardon to put the MS VAD “Cortana” into a smart speaker system. Harmon Kardon is a division of Samsung.

Fred Jacobs blogged about them in a recent article titled “Are Voice Commands the New Hi-Fi?” (Hi-Fi was introduced with the 33-1/3 discs introduced by Columbia 69 years ago this month – June 20, 1948.) In his article, he quoted Spotify’s Ian Geller who said voice commands allow people to “engage with music in ways they haven’t since the Hi-Fi stereo system became available.”

Fred feels that these new VAD’s are a “true moment for the radio industry – a chance to bring radio back to homes in a big way.”

The Old That’s New Again Part

As I study these new gadgets, I see a problem for radio of its own making, branding.

The radio I grew up with was very creative and prolific at branding itself with its listeners. It had to be because of the way radio ratings were conducted, either by aided or unaided recall. Billboards, bumper stickers, TV ads, t-shirts, putting your call letters and frequency on just about everything, everywhere it could be seen.

From virtually the beginning burning your call letters into the brains of your listeners was paramount.

Consolidation and PPM (Personal People Meter) would take the need to brand – or so the new Wall Street stakeholders thought – away. Consolidation did this through many signals in the hands of a few operators and the need to cut costs. Arbitron’s (now Nielsen Audio) PPM device did it by recording “listening” even when the listener was totally unaware of where the music or talk programming was coming from.

The new Voice Activated Devices now require a person to KNOW exactly what it is they want to hear when they say the activation words, like “Hey Alexa” or “Hey Google” or “Hey Siri” followed by a specific request.

Unaided recall is back.

Wi-Fi, Hi-Fi & Being Connected

While these new VADs maybe the new “Hi-Fi” for a 21st Century world, they require Wi-Fi to connect to the internet and their respective clouds.

While many of us today take access to a broadband connection for granted as our parents did a landline telephone line, many people in America were not so fortunate. Poor people or people in very rural areas depended on assistance from the Federal government to connect them up to a wired telephone line because private companies found doing so very unprofitable. The Universal Service Fund (USF) was established to provide the funding. Everyone who had a phone would pay a tax to help wire America.

As the need for internet broadband became as necessary in a 21st Century world as a phone line did in the 20th Century, the tax would continue to provide this telecommunications service in the United States.

To read about all of this more detail, click here

Various Ways to Listen

Public Radio in America is leading the way with directing people with the many ways they can be heard. A good example is WBAA AM & FM from Purdue University. Their “How To Listen” tab on their website informs the listener how to listen to their stations over-the-air, streaming online, via their App or via a Voice Activated Device.

This last VAD page also tells listeners how to listen to NPR One using voice commands, such as “Alexa, play NPR One.”

BRANDING Your Radio Station is IMPORTANT

Using a VAD is a return to the days of unaided recall for the radio industry. The need to brand your radio station is critical in a Voice Activated Device world.

How is your KISS, FROG, HOG, JACK etc. different than other such brands all over the world? How will your VAD know which one you want to hear?

Might the return of unique and one-of-a-kind FCC assigned call letters come back into fashion?

Coleman Insights just released a study on Public Radio that shocked programmers with the fact that fewer than one in four radio users can call to mind any Public Radio station.

It’s a Winner Take All World

When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers is an old African proverb. It means that the weak get hurt in conflicts between the powerful.

Today, the powerful are Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung. Each one having their own voice assistant it hopes will dominate the field.

Our 21st Century technology is altering the structure of competition in America as never before. It encourages more monopolies, a “Winner Take All” world.

Natural monopolies are not new. Utilities are an example, but they were heavily regulated. The natural monopolies created by the internet crush competition and that could negatively impact the American economy. Internet innovation moves fast, the Federal government moves very slowly and regulation won’t stop them from occurring.

You can’t order from Amazon on Google Home. You can’t access your favorite iTunes podcasts on Amazon’s Echo. Each device requires a subscription to their music library, unless you request over-the-air radio streamed into your VAD.

War Chests

Apple as of May 2017 had cash reserves of $256 BILLION. In fact, Apple, Microsoft and Google own 23% of all U.S. corporate cash outside the finance sector according to Moody’s.

iHeartMedia is still wrestling with over $20 BILLION of debt. And Cumulus maybe even worse off.

Their challenges are not those of the entire radio industry and money is not always the determining factor in innovation. A perfect example is how the Wright brothers beat Samuel Pierpoint Langley in the race to create powered controllable flight. Langley had the financial support of the United States government and failed while the Wright brothers succeeded using their own resources from their bike shop.

Crisis

The Chinese language uses two symbols to represent the word crisis. One symbol means “danger” and the other means “opportunity.” 109Radio has been here many times in it’s almost 100-year history before.

Smart operators are already speeding down the path of opportunity.

Are you one of them?

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What if the problem isn’t PPM?

I’ve been reading a lot lately about PPM (Nielsen’s Personal People Meter) and how it may not be capturing all the listening in a radio market.

In Las Vegas at the NAB2015 show, Telos Alliance was demonstrating their Voltair.   This additional “black box” in a radio station’s audio chain will correct for times when the PPM isn’t properly watermarking a radio station’s signal. As I understand it, some formats that have pauses – like talk radio formats, classical formats – aren’t being encoded with the audio watermark the PPM encoder is supposed to transmit to be received by the PPM device a listener in a Nielsen panel carries (or not) with them.

OK – let’s take a time out here.

PPM is now the radio measurement system used in the Top 48 radio markets in the USA. It began being the currency for radio listening in the City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia) in the spring of 2002. When a measurement system is considered “up-to-snuff” an agency called the Media Ratings Council gives that measurements service its Double Checkmark seal of approval. (The diary method of radio listening measurement has had that seal in all markets it’s used and is still the measurement method used in radio markets from #49 to #273 by Nielsen Audio.)

Now you would think that in the lucky 13-years since PPM was officially launched (it was being tested in England back in the late 90s) that it would have earned that gold standard of ratings methodology approval in all PPM markets by now, but no; it apparently only has it in about 25 markets, leaving another 23 without it. But make no mistake it IS the ratings currency used Double Checkmark or not.

This new PPM device replaced the paper diary methodology in America’s largest radio markets and here are a couple of more interesting twists to the story. There were less PPM meters deployed than the number of paper diaries they replaced. They also raised the costs of measuring these radio markets by something like 60%. (That’s sounds like Clear Channel’s old “Less is More” strategy.) But if the ratings will be more accurate, then everyone should rally around this newer system and it will be worth what they’re paying for, right?

That’s what makes the Telos Alliance Voltair black box so disturbing. Its seller’s claim it fixes a problem that no one (or not a lot of people) knew even existed. It made the PPM encoder do a better job of encoding a radio station’s signal so PPM receivers could decode the audio watermark and give that radio station its due. And to implement this “fix” to your radio signal, all it would cost you is $15,000.00 per Voltair.

I’ve had the pleasure to actually visit a station in a major metro and watch the Voltair work. The telemetry it displays appears to be doing just what its sellers claim. So maybe it IS fixing things. But what about all those formats that are no more? What about all those PDs and air personalities that are gone because a new measurement device was not giving them the proper credit they should have been getting? A lot has changed in those 13-years since the first PPM market went online.

Another manufacturer points out that this additional black box in your audio chain designed to capture more PPM receivers will actually make your radio station sound worse and drive listeners away from your station. And I know some radio engineers that would agree with that analysis.

So what’s a radio broadcaster to do?

Dick Harlow thinks he knows. He’s in PPM market #46. He’s dropping Nielsen Audio’s PPM measurement service. He’s not spending $15,000.00 on a Voltair. And he’s not going without audience ratings like Saga has done (and is still doing in some of its markets). He’s hired Mike Gould’s Eastlan ratings to measure the Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem market for his radio stations; WKRR-FM Rock 92 and Top 40 WKZL 107.5 FM.

Mr. Harlow says “enough is enough.”

Eastlan will reportedly deploy a sample size that’s triple the number PPM meters currently used in this radio market using its proprietary ratings estimate methodology.

And no it isn’t MRC Double Checkmark approved, or as far as I can see, under review by the MRC.   But then again, there appears to be a lot of ratings currency being used that lacks this approval.

A quick check of the Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem market shows that PPM is also not receiving the MRC Double Checkmark seal of approval for that market, so there’s no loss for Mr. Harlow on that metric either.

I studied the Eastlan reports back in the early part of the 21st Century when I was running radio stations. At that time it was Arbitron and Eastlan that were battling it out in a few radio markets where we could examine how each company ranked the stations. What I saw at that time was they could both agree on the Big Dawg stations, but Eastlan found those little pups that super-served a niche audience and that was the eye-opening difference to me, for at that moment in time I was running some low powered AM radio signals and needed a ratings company that could drill down a market deeper and uncover more of the radio listening that was actually occurring.

My gut tells me that Dick Harlow will find that too. And if he’s smart, he will take the cost savings by switching to Eastlan and pour it back into advertising and promotion of his radio stations; for if he does, he will not only win in Eastlan’s audience estimates, but in those done by Nielsen too. But the real win will be for his listeners, advertisers, employees and his company, for he will be investing his resources where they will pay the biggest dividends for the community he’s licensed to serve.

To sum this all up, the problem isn’t PPM. It’s that PPM has taken radio broadcaster’s eyes off the ball. The game is programming radio stations with great content. It’s hiring great talent. It’s crafting commercials for advertisers that get results and don’t annoy the listener. It’s super-serving the community you’re licensed to operate in. In other words, it’s doing all the right things, all of the time. Ratings are a by-product of doing it all fabulously well. And profits are the reward that the stakeholders receive for investing and believing in their radio team.

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Are We Losing the Next Generations?

Growing up in western New England, the transistor radio would impact my life and career. Radio has been in my blood as long as I can remember, but it would be my Zenith transistor radio that would first allow me to explore new stations, new music, new personalities and new ways of delivering content without the supervision of my parents. My transistor radio and ear piece would make me the master of my own radio dial.

Growing up, it seemed like most radio markets had two radio stations battling for the teenage ear. WPTR and WTRY out of Albany, New York’s capital district would be mine. Each of those radio stations would bring their mobile studios to our county shopping center and broadcast LIVE. It was such a thrill.

Hartford had WDRC and WPOP. Boston had WMEX and WRKO. Philadelphia had WIBG and WFIL. Chicago had WLS and WCFL.

New York City would finally be a battle between WMCA and WABC for the Top40 crown in the Big Apple.

What made traveling around in my folk’s car so exciting was that each of these radio markets and radio stations were special and different. The personalities, the promotions, the station jingles and yes, even some of the music was unique to each station and market. Local and regional bands could be heard hoping to be discovered and go national with their music.

Radio stations all did music research back then and printed weekly surveys charting how the hits were doing from week to week with local listeners.

That was then, this is now. Larry Rosin at Edison Research says that today “virtually no radio stations perform formal research for music among teens nor target teens directly in their marketing strategy.”

I’ve sold “old people radio formats” where the presentation was quick to point out that what advertisers should be focused on is not the age of the audience but the amount of money they control and have as discretionary to spend as they wish.

I’ve also sold “young people radio formats” where we pointed out that kids are the masters of convincing their parents and grandparents to get them anything they wanted, so please don’t focus on how young they are. I mean once my boys were out of the house, I no longer went to Mickey D’s and ordered “Happy Meals.” (That made me very happy!)

Radio has always focused on the “family reunion demo” aka 25-54 adults; though that demo is shifting upwards with the aging baby boomers to 35-64 adults.

When Radio Disney was born and focused on little tykes, it appeared there was now a radio operator ready to pick up the torch for young people listening to radio. But then radio was shocked the day Disney announced it was selling all but one of its owned and operated Radio Disney stations. Radio Disney basically operated on AM radio. AM radio is no longer used for music listening by the public and so was Disney just abandoning AM radio for FM radio? No. Radio Disney had established a strong beach front on two audio delivery mediums; SiriusXM and online listening. (It also benefits from the Disney TV Channel on cable, satellite and streaming via the Net.)

It should also be noted that around the time Radio Disney was coming into existence that the radio ratings company known at that time as Arbitron began to measure listening audiences down to age 6+ with their new PPM device where as the diary previously only measured “adults 12+.” When Nielsen bought Arbitron and rebranded the radio ratings service Nielsen Audio it kept the 6+ listening metric. Nielsen also now is trying to establish a listening service that will measure all audio listening consumption across all platforms. Can you see where this is going?

Radio listening is a habit. My father never acquired it. I was raised on it. My sons were raised on it. But I see my grandchildren are holding iPad-like devices and easily navigate their parents’ iPhones.

You would have thought that with more radio stations on-the-air in America than at any time in history there would be more variety than at any time in our history, but that’s not the case. There’s actually less variety.

After launching two Smooth Jazz formatted radio stations and falling in love with the artists and their music I now can only hear this music streamed online. So like my grandchildren, I’m forming a listening habit that doesn’t require a radio; just my iPad or iPhone.

I believe the future is going to be all about being the best at something, not necessarily garnering the most people. Radio was always about getting the most ears. Everything was based on CPP (cost per point), but in a world of infinite choice, the best will dominate.

Radio can play in this world if programming is turned back over to people who program their passions to others just like themselves.

Steve Jobs made Apple into the world’s most valuable company by focusing on design (in radio, that’s programming) and making products that he and his team wanted to have for themselves (building a radio station that you not only own, but love to listen to yourself).

Radio is either going seize the day or have a seizure.

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