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TLR – Yes or No?

July 21, 2020

A recent story posted by Inside Radio talked about the rise in streaming use for terrestrial radio caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a trend that will likely continue as we begin our return to “normal.”

Now would be a good time to discuss Total Line Reporting (TLR) for radio stations. For those who are unaware, TLR means a station’s over-the-air and on-line content are identical. Usually, that means the same commercials run on both platforms.

We believe all stations should TLR. We will tell you why but first some realities.

First, like most things in life, TLR is not free. Nielsen requires a separate encoder for the stream and there is a cost attached to that.

Second, some stations may be earning greater revenue from stream-only commercials than they would by simulcasting the two outlets. Money always talks and we would be hard pressed to advise anyone to give up significant revenue. However, this may be a false presumption, as I will explain later on.

That said, we see a few advantages to stations going TLR:

One of the big terms in the digital world is User Experience (UX). This can encompass everything from website design to page-loading speed and beyond. The result of this combination determines how much a consumer likes whatever you are doing.

The rise of digital has led to a dramatic decrease in attention spans. People will simply not tolerate long waiting times. Nor will they put up with a bad on-line experience.

Sadly, too many radio station streams fall into the latter category. While insertion systems have improved with age, they are far from perfect. Streams can sound disjointed, have gaps or overlaps, and often suffer from sloppy board work. This does not begin to address the repetition of commercials and PSAs. Yes, as an industry we have improved in this area, but there are still potholes on the information superhighway (throwback alert!).

However, the comparison between most radio station streams and pure plays like Spotify can be startling. Spotify and Pandora do have repetition issues. But the flow of their streams is usually quite smooth. This is the environment in which terrestrial radio competes. This is the standard by which we are judged.

The second, and we think more important, issue is one of ratings.

At this point the Nielsen PPM system is far from perfect when it comes to measuring stream usage. For the time being they are incapable of measuring ANY listening through Bluetooth headphones. That said, the system does pick up some of that listening.

That is where TLR can be a huge boost to your overall numbers. Programmers live by shares while sales departments are all about ratings points. Both are rounded numbers. However, they can be affected by small increases in Average Quarter Hour (AQH).

For example, say your mid-day rating is 0.3. In reality, it could be a 0.349. That rounded down to 0.3. Let’s say your mid-day stream AQH is 1,200. That could be enough to push your rating to a 0.4. That would be a 25% increase in your mid-day ratings. Given the value of a ratings point in any market, this could lead to a revenue bounty.

While your mileage and AQH may vary, it is worth at least looking into how much AQH your stream is currently providing. As radio makes a more concerted effort to promote its streaming product, these small variances in AQH could have a dramatic effect on listening levels – and revenue.

If you want to see how close you are to moving to the next level, our Ratings Booster report will provide you with the granular data. We can show you how close you are to moving up a level in an easy-to-read report. Let us know how we can help.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant