by Tracy Johnson
And so The Rating Game adjusts yet again. Nielsen has changed the methodology for gathering listening estimates in PPM markets by implementing a headphones bonus, and early returns indicate AQH has increased as a result. Of course, It should increase when measured listening is increased by 50%. It’s enough to drive broadcasters nuts, but smart broadcasters should use this current change to spike ratings.
To their credit, Nielsen is addressing an ongoing issue of how to measure listening that takes place via headphones or earbuds. As you know, meters capture inaudible radio encoded on broadcast signals. One of the many flaws in the system has been the inability to account for audio that’s consumed but not available to the encoders.
This is particularly relevant because:
So the research company conducted a study of around 1,700-meter carriers in PPM markets to determine how much listening takes place via headphones or earbuds.
Headphone and earbud listening is a factor, for sure. Data shows that nearly half of those who listen at work choose this method “mostly or always”. Here’s proof from Jacobs Media’s industry study of radio listeners.
But Nielsen’s reaction to this real thing is curious, and that’s being nice.
Based on their findings, the geniuses behind the fortunes of thousands of broadcasters have decided that all online streaming, app, and smart speaker listening will receive a headphone bonus of 50-70%.
That’s right. They’re guessing (based on a relatively small survey) that this will more accurately reflect actual listening through headphones.
I talked to several programmers I respect and trust to get a reaction. One described this move as,
The whole thing is a joke. They are already having to weight data in the younger demos because of the lack of meter holders. When data is weighted it becomes less reliable. Now Nielsen is going to weight the data even more. And it becomes less and less reliable.
And more and more volatile.
That means every hour of listening to any audio stream is now worth 90 minutes. A 50% bonus! It’s now more valuable to attract online listening than over-the-air tune-in.
On the surface, this helps repair a significant issue faced by all radio stations: What can we do about declining AQH? Simple. Weigh the actual listening higher. We create new quarter-hours out of thin air.
And it’s working already.
According to Inside Radio, October showed a 6% increase in AQH compared to September. But 2/3 of that increase comes from the headphone bonus.
Two-thirds of the increase (or 4%) came from the implementation of a new way to account for listening that occurs on headphones, known as the “headphone adjustment factor.” The remaining 2% is organic or what Nielsen calls the “fall growth period,” marked by a return to school for many, more cars on the road and the re-emergence of more typical fall lifestyles.
That makes for great headlines, but some smart broadcasters question the integrity of weighting the data so heavily:
I’m glad they’re doing something to try and account for listening that hasn’t been measured in the past. But there’s no way simply adding quarter hour weighting to headphone listening is the solutions.
Still, as I point out in my eBook The Ratings Game, programmers have to play the game based on how the rules are written. So here’s what you should do now.
This is a major development with massive potential repercussions for radio programmers.
At a minimum, every station in a PPM market should immediately make moves to compete for the headphones bonus:
Once those adjustments are made, take the next step.
Here it is. It’s easy.
Online marketing is inexpensive, easy to target, and with the right Call-to-Action (CTA) causes an immediate response. But now there’s a major bonus for every meter delivered to the online stream.
But don’t advertise the station’s brand image and position. Promote specific content with an urgent CTA. For example:
Finally, use one of the most effective and efficient methods of promotion: the email database.
I applaud Nielsen for acknowledging a flaw in the system. But adding 50% to all online listening is making a bad situation worse. As one programmer put it:
How about coming up with a solution that will accurately measure listening?
Still, when life serves lemons, make lemonade. Smart programmers, personalities, and marketers will apply some of these techniques and more to aggressively reap the benefits of the headphones bonus.
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