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Dear Diary

June 1, 2023

Nielsen recently announced they are scuttling the paper diary in favor of a digital version. The expected install date is late in 2025 so we have plenty of time to ponder what effect this will have in non-PPM markets.

Facts are scant at this point so the conversation surrounding this change is mostly speculative.

Before we get to that, it is worth noting Eastlan’s response to this change.

According to their response, Eastlan is closing in on ten years of digital data collection. They state that their process has helped with sampling issues, especially with younger demos, and has led respondents to recall more radio usage. This is promising if you’re in a diary market served by Nielsen.

Of course, we know nothing about the Nielsen digital diary. We can likely assume it is a smart phone app. We also do not know if it is comparable to what Eastlan employs.

All that said, how could this change the radio ratings landscape?

The PPM methodology has taught us that there is a wide gap between how people think they use radio and how they actually use the medium. Recall is an imperfect research tool. Seriously. Try to reconstruct all the meals you have eaten in the last seven days. The hope is that the new digital tool will encourage respondents to record their listening more promptly. No, they will not do this in real time (as PPM does) but if they respond daily, rather than at the end of the week, we could see an increase in ratings accuracy.

Radio has an age problem. The hope here is that the digital diary will be more appealing to younger demos. However, we have seen a steady decline in listening levels for the 18-24 and 25-34 segments in PPM markets. So the jury is out on this.

The big reveal with the debut of PPM was that cumes skyrocketed and time spent listening (OK, AWTE) plunged. This was devastating for many formats (looking at you fondly, Smooth Jazz). The flip side was that people listened to (or the meter captured) more stations than they had previously recalled. Yes, some of that additional cume was casual or unintentional, but we always welcome more cume.

Will this lead to changes on the programming front? PPM allowed programmers to segue music. We no longer had to shout our call letters/slogans/station name at every opportunity. Sure, you still had to build a brand, but the need to bludgeon listeners with it abated a bit.

Will diary markets now enter the “hourglass” versus “bow tie” debate? At least they have a couple of years to wrestle with that beast.

Could the digital diary self-edit a respondent’s entry? The app (or whatever) should know all call letters, frequencies, personalities, station names, etc. If I were to write in, say, 106.6, would it self-correct to 106.5 or 106.7? Will it offer me suggestions? Whatever it does, please do not make it an auto-correct feature. Duck that.

Programmers in future diary markets will be in a quandary. Yes, their stations will be rated digitally but the method will still employ recall. The human error element will continue to cloud the process.

Finally, could this lead to panel-based research in diary markets? Recruitment is a cost factor for Nielsen. This does open up all sorts of compliance issues, but if a participant meets those benchmarks, why wash them out after only one week? We could spend another thousand words on the pros/cons of the panel system, but we’ll leave that for another blog.

We are curious as to why Nielsen made this announcement so far in advance. As one of our team members commented – this is vaporware. Nielsen is staking a claim to its current territory with a promise of future gold.

Whatever the reason, it is a positive step in the evolution of radio ratings. As The Ratings Experts, we will be watching this space with breathless anticipation.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant