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Radio Measurement Is Stuck At The Sock Hop – Digital Gabe
Digital Gabe
Cutting Edge Commentary On All Things Media

Radio Measurement Is Stuck At The Sock Hop

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You could have seen this one coming.  As the rest of the media universe embraces digital cross-platform measurement Radio is still stuck in a ratings measurement time warp somewhere between the 1940s and 1990s.  The lag has created friction between the broadcasters and Nielsen, which has a monopoly on broadcast radio audience measurement.  This tension boiled over earlier in the week during a panel at the NAB’s annual conference.

The heart of the issue is Nielsen’s inability to modernize Radio’s ratings system.  Even today Nielsen still uses paper diaries (image below) in over 200 markets.  Reread that . . . paper.  This system requires panelists to recall what stations they’re listening to and for how long, and then write it in their diary for a week straight.  Of course not all listeners in a market fill out a diary.  Nielsen gets diaries from a sample of listeners which is well under 1% of the market population, and then projects ratings for the entire market.  Does this sound like an effective measurement system to you?

In the top 48 markets Nielsen utilizes the more “modern” PPM ratings technology.  PPM stands for Personal People Meter, which are pager-looking devices (image below) panelists wear.  PPMs can track inaudible sounds encoded in broadcast stations’ signals to determine if a listener is within earshot of the station.  Besides the obvious challenge of getting anyone under 40 to wear one of these babies, there’s still the sample size issue in PPM markets.  In 2017 Nielsen increased its PPM pool to 80,000 panelist, but that’s against a population of over 150M in those metros.

This is a difficult situation for broadcasters who have the right to be frustrated with Nielsen.  What’s makes things worse is that there’s no foreseeable next gen solution coming for the terrestrial side of radio.  There are significant breakthroughs happening on the streaming side of audio, which feels like the Jetson’s compared to AM/FM’s Fred Flintstone system.


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