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.
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.
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.”