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What Is Going on with PUMMs and Why Should You Worry?

February 18, 2020

If Nielsen is truth, which many advertisers claim, then those same advertisers can use market listening levels (known as PUMM in PPM markets) against radio stations. In many markets, Nielsen is reporting that PUMMs are falling. Advertisers could conclude that this means fewer people are tuning to radio.

Previous blogs have documented that radio’s reach is as strong as it has always been. So what is the truth?

First, there is a difference between PUMMs and radio cume. One is reach while the other takes into account listeners’ TSL.

However, we theorize that three independent issues are causing this drop in PUMMs. Only one of those reflects real radio listening. The three factors are:

Other Audio Alternatives: Yes, pureplays and other non-radio audio outlets have an impact on radio listening. Logic says more audio alternatives would hurt radio. Studies have shown that pureplays have increased the amount of time people spend with audio entertainment. However, the possibility that they have affected radio listening does exist. It is important to remember that 100% of the change in PUMMs is not a result of alternatives, and therefore not a true reflection of radio listening.

Streamed Audio: Some stations have done an excellent job of moving their listeners from their terrestrial signal to their digital signal. While the user experience is not the same, the digital experience is getting better. One would assume that these digital signals are included in listening levels. However, that is not always the case. If stations are utilizing TLR (total line reporting) then their stream’s listening is included in PUMMs. However, many stations are not TLR and are trying to monetize their stream separately. Unless the stream is a Nieslen subscriber (which many are not), they may not have an encoder. If they don’t have an encoder, 100% of their listening is being missed by PPM.

Ear Buds: Headphones have always been an issue with PPM. While far from perfect, Nielsen offered an option to combat this problem. A user could attach their PPM between their audio device and their headphones. Cumbersome but possible. However, headphones have quickly been replaced by wireless earbuds. We do not know of any way the PPM can pick up this listening. The next time you are out, just look around you and see how many are consuming audio entertainment with earbuds. This is listening not reported by PPM.

We cannot say, or even predict, how much listening is being lost to each of these three factors. However, clearly PUMMs and listening levels are not a true reflection of all listening to radio. What may appear to be truth, may not be.

For more information, feel free to contact me at 410-956-0363 or csislen@ResearchDirectorInc.com.

-Charlie Sislen, Partner