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Nielsen’s Headphone Adjustment … Winners and Losers

October 29, 2020

Starting with the October PPM report, Nielsen Audio began applying modeling to help more accurately account for listening that is being done via headphones, but not being captured by the PPM device. While this modification is a positive move in getting closer to capturing all radio listening, there are definite winners and losers.

If you missed it, first read our earlier blog that goes into more detail about this change.


The radio industry: After a decade of not being able to get full credit for headphone listening, this is a major step forward. By Nielsen’s estimate, this adjustment will boost overall PUMMS (persons who are listening to radio) by about 5%. Since an initial and significant drop in radio listening stemming from the impacts of COVID-19, radio has been making a gradual recovery back to pre-pandemic levels. This recovery will be combined with the growth from the headphone adjustment. More radio listening is good for the entire industry.

Subscribing streams: Most, but not all, streams that subscribe to Nielsen Audio ratings will see a boost in AQH audience. It does not matter whether you are TLR (combining your over the air and streaming listening into one total line reported entity) or not; as long as your stream is a Nielsen Audio subscriber, you have a chance to realize higher reported audience levels. All you need is to have PPM listening credited to your stream, which means it was captured by the meter – for instance, over a smart speaker. Then your stream numbers will be boosted to adjust for missed headphone listening. This will result in higher AQH persons and potentially higher AQH ratings. Capturing an extra 0.1 rating point in a single major daypart can be a massive boost to sales. It can also push a TLR station higher up in the rankings.


Non-subscribing encoded streams: If you do not subscribe to Nielsen Audio ratings for your stream but you do encode, you will not get any benefit. There will be no adjustment to your AQH persons and therefore no change to your AQH ratings. However, since PUMMs will be higher and other stations will get a boost, your terrestrial station will lose a small amount of AQH share and possibly drop in the rankings.

Subscribing streams without measurable PPM listening: While we cannot quantify the frequency, there is a chance that you are doing everything right with your stream, including being a Nielsen Audio subscriber, but no one on the existing Nielsen panel is listening to your stream in a way that can be captured by the meter. In this case, you will not get any benefit from the headphone adjustment.


The Nielsen Audio model is based on the assumption that the PPM panel listens to radio stations’ streams through headphones at least partly in a way that the PPM device can detect from over the air streams. While the new model is better than anything else presently available, there has always been an industry concern about Nielsen’s sample size. Once a small sample is segmented into those who listen to encoded streamed audio in a way that the PPM can capture, we are dealing with a very small segment of the total population.

If you’d like to discuss how Nielsen’s headphone adjustment impacts your station, reach out to us here.

-Charlie Sislen, Partner