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Hot Topics

The System Is Flawed

October 27, 2022

Pretty much since the dawn of radio ratings, programmers (guilty) have blamed the ratings services for our “issues.” These issues usually mean bad ratings. From Arbitron to Nielsen, diary to PPM, the lament remains the same – sample sizes are too small.

And they are. However, the only fix for this system flaw is for radio to pay more for their ratings. We all know that dog won’t hunt.

Nielsen has done a good job recovering from the supply chain issues to return most PPM markets to their 6+ levels. Certainly, the introduction of wearables has helped. The lingering issue is proportionality, or indexing. We track this metric for our clients, and we see proportionality issues all the time.

First, a little inside baseball. The proportionality, or index, of a demo compares the percentage of that age cell in the market population to the percentage of meters in that cell in the sample. A perfect index is 100 – both percentages match. It is unrealistic to ever expect Nielsen to hit that mark in every age cell. What we advise is that anything between 90 and 110 is good, 80 to 120 is acceptable. Outside of those ranges, you can have problems.

Why? Weighting. A high sample means meters are easier to find but valued at a lower rate. The reverse is true when the index is too low. Say your target demo is Women 35-44 and it indexes at 75 (we’ve seen it). If you get one – you’re a hero. If not, well…

Tracking this is important for two reasons. First, you pay Nielsen for sample, not ratings. You have the right to question why a certain cell is out of proportion – especially if the issue is chronic (we’ve seen that, too). Second, it helps you interpret your numbers. If you get a CPR report, you know those AQH totals are raw, not weighted. You could be in for a rude (or pleasant) awakening when the book comes out.

This system flaw is fixable. Nielsen has the ability to adjust sample over time and correct egregious errors. There is another system flaw that cannot be fixed.

Survey after survey, we see so many stations that depend heavily on a particular zip code or specific age cell. I cannot mention the market but there is a station out there that gets over 75% of its 18+ AQH from two meters. They are kings right now but when those meters time out, there will be meetings.

You cannot change this flaw in the system. You can, however, track it. Time for our shameless plug: our proprietary Exact Age and Hot Zip reports can tell you everything you need to know about your station(s) and market. If they make the book, they are in the report. You can see who is reaping the rewards from the heaviest listeners and – if they are in your competitive set – how much of that listening comes to your station.

These are powerful tools. The biggest benefit from the data is that it will prevent you from making a bad decision. Think of the example cited above. If that station is unaware that it is totally dependent on two age cells, how will they react when the meters are gone? It is not hyperbole to say that careers can be affected by this.

The best way to protect your station is to, of course, get our reports. You should also strive to get as many meters tuning into your station as possible. I know this is a Captain Obvious statement, but more meters mean a stronger foundation.

That’s why you see leading stations in PPM market after market maintain a relatively stable ratings pattern. Meters come and go but the station is strong and popular enough to always find more.

Knowledge is power – use it wisely.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant