Tag Archives: Eastlan

Why Make Radio Advertising Harder to Buy?

The headline in Radio Ink proclaimed, “No More Free Ride For Non-Subscribers.” It was a news story about how Nielsen Audio was no longer going to provide buyers with any data pertaining to non-subscribing radio stations through their ratings service.  It will be as if these radio stations vanished from their markets.

Ratings Gathering Costs Money

I can understand the perspective of both Nielsen Audio subscribers, as well as Nielsen itself as an audience ratings provider. If there weren’t subscribers there would be no money to pay Nielsen to gather this data in the first place. Subscribers don’t wish to see those radio companies not paying and then enjoying the benefits of data gathered. Likewise, Nielsen wants to be able to garner the biggest bang for their ratings gathering dollar by trying to force all radio operators to be a participant in the process.

So, on the surface, why would anyone object to this change coming in January 2021?

Winners & Losers

The reality is that even if everyone pays to have access to the data, only the very top performing radio stations will enjoy the benefits. Stations placing out of the top five or ten– often any station not rated number one or number two – will be paying for data that in the end only helps the market’s “big dawgs.” For many stations, it’s paying big money for nothing.

Nielsen vs. Eastlan

In those markets where both Nielsen and Eastlan measure radio listening, we see all the stations in the Eastlan report’s cover page giving a total radio listening perspective for that  market, but with a Nielsen Audio report, we only see subscribing stations. In 2014, Nielsen ceased reporting non-subscribing radio stations from the “topline” numbers it provides to the radio trade publications and newspapers.

For anyone who grew up in radio, having radio stations that are impactful in their market not be listed seems sacrosanct; like not seeing 650AM WSM appear in the ratings for Nashville. When this became Nielsen’s policy, I stopped looking at their ratings reports, since I knew they were incomplete and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Eastlan Ratings, on the other hand, includes every radio station in their topline numbers in every market they do audience measurement. However, if anyone wanted to drill down the data to a more granular level, then they would need to subscribe to the report, and that seems fair.

Of these two radio ratings companies, I find Eastlan’s philosophy to be more valuable to the radio industry and the selling of radio advertising.

Subscriber First

Nielsen is calling their new policy “Subscriber First.” But will the result be a positive for Nielsen subscribers if it makes radio advertising more difficult for people to buy?

Radio ratings are, after all, only estimates. Estimates of what people ages 6 and older are listening to on their radios, smartphones and other audio devices.

Unlike my subscription to Netflix, Amazon Prime, PBS, or The Washington Post, where I am actually counted as paying for a service that I receive, radio ratings are attempting to estimate listening based on a small sample of people, and then extrapolate those results as the habits of an entire marketplace population.

Radio listening estimates  are not perfect, and as a radio manager, some of my radio stations have taken a “ratings bullet” and seen a precipitous drop in reported listening, even when nothing in the market changed to cause such a drop. History taught me that patience was in order and that things would return in the next ratings period; which they always did.

Radio Station Owners vs. Radio Advertising Buyers

It’s radio’s buyers who really want to know who’s listening to what, and when, and for how long etc. And it appears that radio buyers, as a group, are none too pleased with this change in ratings reporting. I’m reading quotes like “as a long-time client, not being consulted before a final decision was made is quite troubling,” and “ we feel like we will no longer be receiving the data we originally contracted for – a full view of radio listening in measured markets.”

Radio station owners, on the other hand, feel that non-subscribing radio stations should not have anyone know the true impact their radio station is having in a measured market. Those stations should be made to “pay to play,” or simply disappear.

Customer Friendly?

It seems like the timing of this change could not come at a worse time for the radio industry. With so much of its business impacted by COVID-19, making radio’s reach more transparent instead of opaque should be the order of the day.

I’ve read that Nielsen estimates two thirds of its agency subscribers won’t have access to any data regarding non-subscribing radio stations. Might these agencies just also cease being subscribers to radio ratings? Is this really the direction we want things to head in?

I think not.

Nielsen’s change, from my vantage point, will potentially reduce the level of confidence buyers will have about buying radio advertising. It’s a path of erosion that could negatively impact the entire radio industry.

The Better Advertising Mousetrap

Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have coined the phrase: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” When it comes to advertising, social media has built the better mousetrap, and you and I are helping them to improve it every day.

I wrote a blog article on social media’s ability to manipulate our attention, wants and desires for the benefit of their advertisers. It should give any radio broadcaster pause. You can read that article HERE

The reality is, today the internet is a more efficient way to sell our attention to advertisers.

When radio makes buying the medium more difficult, buyers have other choices, and once they invest more heavily in them, they may never return.

“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’:

illegal drugs and software.”

-Edward Tufte

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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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