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Digital Diary Data

August 10, 2023

You probably read the Inside Radio article about Nielsen’s plans to change how they gather ratings information in diary markets. The new system is called mSurvey and is slated to be implemented in late 2025.

We certainly applaud Nielsen’s efforts to improve their ancient data retrieval system. Hopefully, this will lead to better compliance and participation. This is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it does not address two flaws inherent in diary methodology.

The PPM era has taught us many things about how the public consumes radio. Yes, radio. It does not address the entire audio spectrum. Nielsen says they will be asking e-diary participants to also record any audio consumption beyond radio in the new gizmos. That’s great but we’re still dealing with the recall issue.

PPM data is actual. Diary data is reported. We have learned from PPM that listeners “hear” more stations than in diary world but listen significantly less. Perhaps the immediacy of mSurvey will lead to better precision. Look, most of us have trouble remembering what we had for lunch yesterday – a topic far more important than what radio station we listen to. Recall is imperfect. If mSurvey shrinks the time between listening and entering that listening, we can hope for better results.

It will also be interesting to see how this affects both cume and Time Spent Listening. I’m sure Nielsen will be looking at that.

The other flaw in the diary methodology is sample. This is not a plea for a larger sample because radio will never pay for it. Love it or hate it, we know the PPM sample is consistent. The average monthly churn is in the 8% range and panelists can participate for up to two years. While it’s true that a heavy household or two can have an enormous impact on a station’s share, it does provide a level of comfort that allows programmers to make more informed decisions. OK, maybe “level of comfort” is not the right phrase. How about a “level of expectations”?

Why not do the same for diary markets? The participants will already have the app so there is no need for Nielsen to recruit more sample. We know recruitment is one of their biggest expenditures. And it is possible that the longer a diary keeper uses the app, the better they could become at recording their listening. Why not keep the diary panel on for, say, a month? What is the downside?

Nielsen has two years to experiment with mSurvey. It will be interesting to see what happens.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant