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February 23, 2023

For decades, radio’s favorite sport has been complaining about the ratings. Whether it was Arbitron or Nielsen, we too often blame the service for our performance.

While there are times when things like sample size or proportionality are an issue, the truth about your station’s numbers is always contained in the data. Whether you use a service like ours or just the tools provided by Nielsen, a little digging can reveal the truth…

One resource that is often overlooked is the Nielsen Pre-Survey Bulletin. This is released around the beginning of each month and can provide some insight into what Nielsen is doing in a particular survey.

Some of the revelations include:

  • Changes in Methodology. When Nielsen changes how they are doing something, they will let their clients know. This is often about how the sausage is made, but it is still worth noting.
  • Changes in Population. With every October/Fall survey, Nielsen updates their population estimates. This can lead to new high-density ethnic areas and market rankings. There are several more factors that are also updated at this time, so it would be a good idea to read that release if you haven’t already done so.
  • Changes in Spanish language usage. This happens every January.
  • Changes in Zip Codes. If the U.S. Postal Service has added a new zip code, Nielsen will let you know.
  • Incentives. Did you know that Nielsen offers bonuses to panelists? They won’t say what the bonuses are, but Nielsen will tell you when it takes place. This is done to increase in-tab rates – which is a good thing for radio. These incentives apply to all markets, but we do not know if they target specific demographics or ethnicities, and we never will.

We are being somewhat vague on the specifics of what the Pre-Survey Bulletin contains because this information is for client eyes only. However, if you are a Nielsen subscriber, you have complete access.

Where do you find this? It’s in your Nielsen Portal every survey. You’ll find it under “Workspaces > U.S. Nielsen Audio.” There are bulletins for PPM and Diary markets.

If you need help figuring out what your numbers are saying, let us know. We are officially The Ratings Experts, but we can also be considered The Ratings Whisperers.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant