In November of last year, I wrote a blog titled “Why Make Radio Advertising Harder to Buy?” It was inspired by articles in all the radio trades on how Nielsen Audio was no longer going to provide buyers with any data pertaining to non-subscriber radio stations through their ratings service. It would be as if these radio stations had vanished from their markets.
That sounded pretty scary!
Winchester, Virginia Nielsen Audio Ratings
Well this week, the latest Nielsen Audio Ratings for my radio marketplace were released and it was startling.
Was it possible that the only radio stations impacting the Winchester, Virginia radio market were owned my iHeartMedia or was something missing?
Winchester, Virginia Eastlan Radio Ratings
The answer, as I’m sure you guessed, something IS missing, all the non-subscribing radio stations that put a signal into the Winchester metro don’t appear.
Eastlan Ratings has committed to showing ALL radio stations in its radio listening reports.
The first thing you notice is that iHeartMedia doesn’t have the #1 radio station in the Winchester Metro, Centennial Broadcasting’s WINC-FM/WXBN-FM has that position and by almost five share points.
Nielsen vs. Eastlan vs. Arbitron vs. Birch
Over the years, as I studied the different ratings services, it gave me some sense of how they differ.
When I managed WFPG-FM, a Bonneville Beautiful Music formatted radio station in South Jersey, Arbitron’s diary methodology was very good at finding the older adults that enjoyed this music presentation. When Birch decided to measure the market, their telephone methodology found all the young adults that enjoyed album oriented rock. As you might have guessed, I never purchased a Birch Ratings Report.
When Arbitron and Eastlan measured the same radio market, I noticed they were both good at reporting listening to the dominant, high powered radio stations, but what made Eastlan different than Arbitron was finding listeners of small niche radio signals that never made it to the pages of the Arbitron report.
When Nielsen Audio took over Arbitron, this sampling methodology remained unchanged.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
It seems that the song the big radio owners were singing when announcing the change to “Subscriber First” was Don’t Worry, Be Happy. But when I read the trades, I saw radio advertising buyers were anything BUT happy.
Agency buyers said they expected the ratings reports they bought to be an accurate representation of the market, but if reports don’t show the non-subscriber stations, then those ratings become basically useless.
Nielsen Audio has said that agencies can get all the stations IF they pay more for respondent level data (RLD), according to published reports. But will they?
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
With the start of a brand new year, it appears the first punch has been landed. Non-subscribing radio stations have been erased from Nielsen Audio’s Topline Data, the data used by the radio trades like AllAccess Music Group, Inside Radio, RadioInsight, Radio Ink, and Radio Business Reports. For radio lovers, like me, these published reports are totally useless.
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. 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 in return.
Radio Ad Sellers vs. Radio Ad Buyers
Radio ad buyers want to know who’s listening to what, and when, and for how long etc. And early indicators are showing radio buyers, as a group, are none too pleased with this change. Sadly, the people who appear to have never been consulted about this change, were, radio ad buyers.
“How am I doing?”
-Ed Koch, Mayor – New York City 1978-1989
One of the things I told my broadcast sales students was something I learned from Mayor Koch, if you want to know how you’re doing, ask. Mayor Koch was famous for asking people everywhere he went, “How am I doing?” They told him. And he listened. That’s how he was elected to three terms as New York City’s mayor.
With the country still in the grips of COVID-19, the timing for this change comes at an especially bad moment for the radio industry. Instead of increasing transparency of radio’s impact, it’s making it opaquer.
Might an unintended consequence be for advertisers to try another medium to advertise in that gives them more consumer engagement data?
E-Commerce Usage Explodes
COVID-19 has seen an acceleration of E-Commerce adoption by consumers of all ages. Everything from essential goods to holiday gifts are being bought online, which McKinsey & Company, an American worldwide management consulting firm, says compressed ten years of E-Commerce adoption into three months. Part and parcel with this change is a massive shift in consumer behavior, the type of shift that historically used to take decades to occur. These changes were already in motion before the onset of the global pandemic, but COVID’s impact was like hitting the fast-forward button.
Consumer behavior is moving in the direction of convenience and speed, should radio station operators think it will be any different for the behavior of buyers of advertising? If it gets harder to figure out what a market’s true listening habits are, if it takes more money, more elbow grease to get to the bottom of the audience estimates, do you think they might opt for a new direction?
Ad buyers have never had more choices. Once they invest their ad dollars in a new directions, they may never return.
“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’:
Illegal drugs and software.”
My good friend and expert radio researcher, Charlie Sislen at The Research Director, poses more questions about the impact this change will make for both subscribers and non-subscribers in his blog and asks: “Is it Nielsen’s primary job to deliver data that properly reflects all radio listening in a local market OR to increase its profits for their parent company and shareholders?”
Read Charlie’s thoughts here: https://researchdirectorinc.com/2021/01/nielsens-war-on-non-subscribers/
Sunday, January 21, 2021 2:30pm EST Update: Alert readers of the blog have told me that the link I posted no longer works. Apparently, Charlie has removed this article from his blog. Here’s a link to an Inside Radio story about what Charlie wrote (and also includes this same link to Charlie’s now removed blog article). http://www.insideradio.com/free/unintended-consequences-for-radio-subscribers-flagged-in-new-nielsen-policy/article_be6bf0dc-61ff-11eb-8410-3bbaf52569cb.html
I included to a link to what Charlie Sislen had written, because I found his insights to be very informative.