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Understanding Nielsen’s Headphone Adjustment

March 2, 2021

Many questions remain regarding how Nielsen’s headphone adjustment impacts individual radio stations. Last fall, we addressed this new modeling procedure, which was introduced with the October 2020 PPM survey (see here and here). While the headphone adjustment undoubtedly lifts PUMMs (market listening levels), it only results in a positive impact for certain stations.

While all streamed stations get the benefit of the adjustment, only stations with streams that are Nielsen subscribers are reported and will actually benefit from this adjustment. It doesn’t matter if the station is TLR (total line reporting) or if the stream is not 100% simulcast. Many broadcasters miss this important fact.

Second, only PPM markets are affected by this change. The purpose of this adjustment was to attempt to model headphone listening that the meter is missing. In the diary markets, Nielsen relies on its sample to self-report what they listen to, so there is no need for the headphone adjustment.

Third, only stations with streams that capture digital listening from meter keepers will benefit from the headphone adjustment. This appears to be the most confusing aspect to some broadcasters. For a stream to qualify for the headphone adjustment, the meters in the market must have captured streamed listening from an over-the-air device. This could be from a mobile device playing audio through its speakers, computer speakers, or smart speakers like Alexa, Sonos, and Echo.

This listening that is captured by the meter is then adjusted for missed headphone listening. Therefore, if the meter keepers in your market do not listen to your stream on a device that the meter detects, then you will not benefit from the headphone adjustment.

There is an important unanswered question here. Let’s take a medium-sized PPM market, say St. Louis (market rank 24). It has a sample target of 1,214 average daily meters. What percent of the market’s in-tab meters listen to streamed encoded audio in a manner that the PPM device can detect? This fraction of meter keepers are a station’s only avenue for qualifying for the headphone adjustment.

Finally, keep in mind that, even if you benefit from the headphone adjustment, it will not affect your cume. The headphone adjustment is based on the assumption that any missed headphone listening is coming from panelists who are already credited with listening to your stream. However, it does increase your AWTE/TSL and, therefore, your AQH.

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

-Charlie Sislen, Partner