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The “New” On Air

October 6, 2020

The recent release of Edison Research’s Infinite Dial data supports what most radio professionals already know. An increasing number of radio listeners are accessing the medium through non-traditional means.

The study goes into great detail on how P1s of various formats are becoming increasingly dependent on the use of devices like smart speakers. This is even more pronounced along generational fault lines. The much-sought-after younger demos are, quite naturally, more tech savvy than their older counterparts. This shows that radio’s future is still bright with the digital natives.

This is even more important when you look at Nielsen’s PPM Panel Additional Characteristics report. This comes out quarterly and provides deeper insight into the panels in each market. We have spent considerable time with this report and we find two generalizations in most PPM markets.

First, roughly 25% of the P6+ households do not have a single radio IN THEIR HOME. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So, ANY at-home listening will have to come via other devices – tablets, computers, phones, and smart speakers.

Digging further, we generally see about a 40% penetration of smart speakers in PPM households.

For most programmers this is not earth-shattering news. Every client we work with makes a consistent and concerted effort to remind their fans of alternative ways to experience each station’s content. Whether a station is TLR (Total Line Reported) or not means less than creating future habits with their core audiences.

As an industry, we are all on board with this progression. While car radios will (hopefully) continue to be a mainstay, there are quarter hours still to be had at home with these newer devices. We would submit this is even more critical today with so many people in Work from Home (WFH) mode.

There is just one, small problem with this entire scenario. The measurement system we all rely upon does a less-than-adequate job of recording this “other” listening. The issue is not with intent – I’m sure Nielsen would love to expand radio’s audience. The problem is systemic. PPM technology is not adequately equipped to record all digital listening. Part of the problem is with ear buds. The other is that many streams are not encoded. Some of this is being addressed. Plus, we have to acknowledge that when the PPM system was first enacted, the need for on-line measurement was not as acute.

Certainly, the modeling Nielsen will implement with the October survey to account for missed headphone listening is a positive step forward. Hopefully, we will see an increase in PUMM – something radio needs during this pandemic-induced listening downturn.

This is not an indictment of Nielsen – by any stretch. They have offered other solutions which, for various reasons, have not come to fruition. Eventually there will be an all-in-one audio measurement system. One that accurately compares terrestrial signals with pure plays and even podcasts. The opportunity is too great for this not to happen.

In the meantime, savvy programmers would do well to continue to push their streams. And, to pay close attention to their server side numbers. Those are actual, real-time “ratings” that can provide a true measure of how much listening actually happens “off air.”

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant

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