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Nielsen as a Currency Post-COVID-19

May 18, 2020

Clearly the COVID-19 crisis has changed people’s lifestyles and therefore their radio listening. In coordination with Cornerstone Research (XTrends), Research Director, Inc. has been tracking changes in radio listening in PPM markets. The shift in listening has been incredible.

As markets initiated shelter-in-place orders and the number of commuters dropped, much radio listening, both the amount and the stations listened to, changed. Again, people’s lifestyles were different, and therefore so were their radio habits. In most markets, these changes began in mid-March and only now are markets slowly starting to open up.

Typically, those that buy radio advertising look at either the latest book or a rolling three-book average. To understand why that’s not ideal at this time, let’s look at the PPM markets’ survey dates for March through May:

  • March – February 27-March 25
  • April – March 26-April 22
  • May – April 23-May 20

For a portion of the March survey, all of the April survey, and likely most or all of the May survey depending on your geographic region, markets were hampered by closings and restrictions. Therefore, these ratings reports do not reflect projected radio listening after things transform to the new normal. Hopefully, by the release of the June survey (May 21-June 17), commerce will have returned to pre-pandemic levels. Nielsen begins releasing the June survey on July 7.

Even Nielsen has put out guidance saying that, once markets open up, the measurement during the closings should not be used for media selection and pricing.

So, how does the smart media buyer and the advertiser who cares about the quality of their media buy need to change their buying patterns? Research Director, Inc. posits, once markets lift shelter-in-place orders and reopen businesses, that we use a two-book average of January 2020/February 2020 for selecting radio stations and pricing.

For those who are more comfortable with a three-book average, we should promote temporarily using an average of January 2020/February 2020/March 2020. Recognize that the final two weeks of the March survey were when most market shutdowns occurred, so this average would represent roughly ten weeks pre-shutdown and two weeks post-shutdown.

This should remain the standard until two or three full surveys have been released that represent an environment in which commerce is largely back to normal across the nation.

We believe that this is the only appropriate way to judge radio and make wise media buys.

Please share your thoughts below or contact us with questions.

-Charlie Sislen, Partner