Wednesday, October 21, 2015

This Will Make You Feel Better, Country Radio

As a follow-up to yesterday's blog post, it must be noted that history indicates that country's shares shouldn't be jeopardized by updated encoding technologies as they come online over the coming months.

  • Voltair really took off about a year ago and into the Winter.
  • New Country shot up starting last summer.

IMHO:  Music cycle, season, more stations in format.  While some country stations did buy a Voltair, it took place a few at a time over numerous months. 

Mike O’Malley recently made the statement to an A&O&B client that he can think of sixteen different things that affect time spent listening/time spent exposed (his list didn’t even include Voltair).

Both Mike and Becky Brenner will be sitting in the front row at Nielsen’s December 3-4 client conference in Washington where CBET testing and impact, the new SDK measurement system for digital audio, which reportedly gets away from having to rely on the meter panel and headphone adapter since it is measuring the traffic to the content regardless of how it’s heard, are on a full two days of presentations.

We appreciate Nielsen hosting this meeting and we’re absolutely looking forward to getting as many answers as possible.

Hope to see YOU there.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Nielsen’s Answer To Voltair

In a presentation at the NAB Radio Show in Atlanta Nielsen tells us that the brand new generation PPM encoders, the first update to the technology in eight years, created in response to the proliferation of at least 500 Voltair units across both the US and Canada have generated average quarter hour (AQH) ratings growth in 52% of stations tested during afternoon drive in the Baltimore-Washington market.

48% showed morning drive growth while there was 45% growth in middays.

Roughly 61% of the 289 station-demographic-day combinations tested, Nielsen says, showed no ratings increases using the encoders.

All American PPM stations will have the new encoders by the end of this year.  Since shares are a zero sum game, it seems very likely that the next few months in PPM markets in North America are going to experience changes unseen since the move from diaries to PPM and, prior to that, way back to 1986 when COLRAM's diary was adopted.

After that change was implemented, Top 40 suddenly went down and AC stations went through the roof.  Country, over the next few years, had to learn the new rules of the game ushered in by the change in methodology and work to get our listeners to fight for their favorite station at work or face audience erosion.

Numerus in Canada asked all stations using Voltair to unplug them and wait for the new update, which they hope will put all of their subscribers on a level playing field.  It wasn't difficult to guess which stations plugged Voltair in their audio chain and when they stopped using it from tracking PPM trends (up/down). 

The dueling presentations of Nielsen and Telos/Voltair leave many, many unanswered questions.

Country radio has had a great run over the last few years and PPM technology that helped us tell our reach story.  If this change that is going to happen over the next few phases of our surveys helps some stations, will it hurt country? I wish Nielsen was doing more to allay these fears and could give us more insight into their rationale beyond declaring that they have a right to do what they want.

For example, if you're in the mood for a bit of irony, search the Nielsen Newsire site for any news of "enhanced CBET:"

It's no secret that many of us in broadcasting have long wondered if the entire ratings process is a bit of a crap shoot, but I never expected a Nielsen site to suggest it could be an "enhanced bet!"

All irony aside, why isn't there anything on the Nielsen Newswire website about the presentation? 

Why aren't they reporting publicly on their actions and reasoning?  It has been four months since the last Nielsen Audio Advisory Council meeting and radio's reps on the committee continue to be tight-lipped.  Surely, they know that secrecy only breeds conspiracy theories.  Just ask Richard Harker if you don't believe me (click to read his latest update).

If you are a PPM-rated station, here are the questions I hope you'll ask your rep:

1.  Even if I can't actually use my Voltair to process my signal once the enhanced CBET PPM encoder is on my air, why can't I continue to at least use my Voltair as a monitor?  I find this screen very informative and reassuring, especially since CBET is being implemented so quickly with so little testing.

2.  Are there radio groups who have decided to stay with their Voltair processors and won't move to Nielsen's new equipment?  I hear that there are.  What is Nielsen planning to do about that?

3.  Is Nielsen willing to underwrite an objective study on all of the impacts of Pre-CBET,  Post-Voltair and Post CBET PPM ratings by the Media Ratings Council, Council on Research Excellence or a similar body that would include format analyses with much more depth beyond average percentages?

4.  What is it about the stations which were unaffected by the encoder update vs the ones that were improved in the recent test?

5.  Is there any developing information that may make it worth trying some of the high loyalty formats that disappeared eight years ago like smooth jazz, new age, talk and classical again?  If average quarter hours go up at least 14%, what is driving that change?

Arbitron/Nielsen certainly went to PPM measurement in good faith and with no ill intent.  Radio's owners agreed that it was an improvement at the time and I certainly don't believe any broadcaster wants to go back to diaries after they've made the switch, but this new trove of before/after data has the potential to improve our understanding of our measurement methodology.

I hope Nielsen agrees and as Arbitron used to do on a regular basis, tasks an objective researcher to dig deep, reporting back publicly in the common interest of all of us.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Candid Admission

Last week, Seth Ressler in his AllAccess column hit me right between the ears.

Back when PPM first debuted, since I was long-schooled in the ways to get an unfair advantage to grab "just one more share point" that we all used in diary measurement, I was focused on the wrong thing.
I still  wanted the sample size to be more random "like it used to be" and as large as the 48 different weekly samples.  The share compression that resulted from the move to panel measurement seemed to confirm (to me) that I was right and all the issues of PPM would be solved by larger and larger samples.

Call me a slow learner.
  • The fact is that audio media simply can't afford to more than quadruple samples and of course both Arbitron and Nielsen have increased samples each time we squeaky wheels made those noises.
  • The fact that the cume and usage levels are at all time highs right now makes a good case that we actually already have more than enough to compete adequately against all other media as is - selling results - no matter which of the three or four cume thresholds where the majority of stations clump in every market.
Of course, as Alfred Liggins said on his investor call last week, free market competition requires constant vigilance and if everyone else in town is doing something smart that you're not, you're likely to get hurt in the short run until you catch up.

Ultimately, I worry more that Programmatic buying and selling will be a greater challenge than mysterious black boxes as agencies adopt it in order to save money, failing to consider the compelling personality, brand loyalty, database, social, narrow target and psychographic data that only a human seller can present.

When that is accomplished our sales teams have great stories which more than add powerful value to our sales proposition.

Seth, you are right that our best story is not "how many?" but WHO.

Thanks for the clear thinking and wake up call.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Keen On HD Radio

I have been a fan of Robert Earl Keen's since he first attempted to promote me to play his music on a radio station named KEEN (San Jose) back in the 1980's, when I was PD.

My experience was not unlike SXSW, which became a hugely successful entertainment event by dropping its role as an Alt.Country/Americana convention and becoming more mass appeal, diverse and mainstream at the same time.

I don't know what made the South-By-Southwest organizers take that journey, but I do know that Robert Earl pioneered something that is huge in night clubs all over Texas and his many proteges that have come after him but has rarely been mass appeal enough even in the Lone Star State to draw a large enough fan base of radio users to compete successfully with country radio stations simply playing the Nashville chart hits.

Propelled by a devoted and passionate base of lovers of his powerfully-creative, eclectic, indie music style, Robert continues to provide an important voice to the music scene, which makes me want to tip my (cowboy) hat in his direction for his latest promotional effort, an endorsement of HD Radio.

iBiquity’s partnership with Robert Earl Keen will build awareness of HD Radio broadcasting and promote Robert’s new album, Happy Prisoner. The program will include radio promotions and contests, as well as a trip for two to Nashville to join Robert Earl at his July 23, 2015 performance at the historic Ryman Auditorium.

“We are excited to continue to build the HD Radio Artist spotlight program,” said Mason Hunter, Executive Director, Strategic Partnerships/Business Development at Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI).    “Robert Earl Keen is a stalwart for BMI and is an artist who has been consistently releasing outstanding music for over three decades.  His latest release, Happy Prisoner, is no exception. We are thrilled to have a partner in iBiquity Digital who recognizes his talent and ongoing contribution to songwriting. The HD Radio Experience delivers digital quality sound, unique content, and exposure to artists like Robert in order to enhance the experience of their listeners,” continued Hunter.

“Robert Earl Keen is a unique talent with a long history of making music his way, and his fans love him for it,” said Joe D’Angelo, Senior Vice President of iBiquity Digital.  “We are extremely proud to be able to work with Robert and look forward to bringing his latest project to radio fans across the country.”

OK, radio.  The ball is now in your court.  If you already have an HD-2 or HD-3 channel set aside for, Robert Earl Keen, BMI and iBiquity just handed you a free gift.  If you aren't using all of your HD channels now, it's a great time to begin.

BUT, don't do it if you're not prepared to aggressively promote it on your main channel.  Enhance your brand by appealing to the widest possible group of country fans.

Make the most of this forward-thinking move by radio's longtime friend, Robert Earl Keen!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Analysis Paralysis

Numbers nerds (like me!) have been blogging almost daily on Voltair.

Rather than getting smarter with each post, I feel like we all start to send contradicting and conflicting assertions.

We all have been learning less, not more.

Before I crunch anymore random PPM data, it would be nice to know who is using Voltair and who isn’t for one thing. Educated guesses have only the potential to create confusion for all of us.

Yes, A&O&B has a number of clients using the technology right now, but in spite of the perspective that has afforded us, there's a lot we simply do not know.

Like you, I read each new observation, but have ultimately come to the point of reminding myself that “liars figure and figures lie.”

Lets face it.  No one is admitting anything, not because they are hiding anything.  No one knows enough as yet to draw any conclusions.

Things I don’t think anyone knows.
  • Nielsen and Numeris don’t know who has been using Voltair.  Even in Canada, where the ratings firm has asked all their subscribers to unplug their Voltair boxes, who knows if all of them actually did so?
  • Voltaire users don’t know what happened to their sample geography, proportionality, weighting and all the other factors which can move numbers much more than even the uptrends the manufacturer of Voltair has claimed.
Things I think I know:
  • PPM measurement appears to help formats with big cume.  
  • Country, Classic Rock and Pop shares increased when PPM came into our lives.
  • The average age of radio users dropped by about a decade, which may mean that PPM is measuring radio use by younger listeners who didn’t fill out diaries.
  • Talk formats and personalities with long periods of non-music content slipped in the rankers.
  • Sample sizes fell precipitously.
  • Panel/qualitative research replaced random probability sampling.
All of this tells me that we have come to a point that we need less blogging by folks who really don’t have enough information to really know the entire picture.

It think we all can agree that Nielsen's decision to not open their webinar last week to the media was a mistake.  What got reported the next day may or may not have been accurate.  Transparency is the best policy.

It’s time for all Nielsen and Numeris clients to speak loudly to their ratings rep for much more openness and clarity, let alone increasing sample reliability.

It was refreshing recently to learn that Canada's analytics arm has been brainstorming with clients, for example.  We need a lot more of that from Nielsen too.

All of the noise on the technology affecting fewer than 50 markets - albeit the largest ones in North America - is also obscuring an even more pressing issue:  sample quality in the much more numerous diary measurement markets.

Just four years ago we were promised exciting modernizations of the long-outdated approaches being used in radio audience measurement.  After all, Jim Seiler first invented a diary to measure media in 1949! 

Then, Nielsen bought Arbitron and the leapfrog hasn’t croaked once since!

Let’s stop the silly number-crunching without really knowing what is behind the stats we’re all using.  Nielsen and Numeris, please help us all get it right without delay.

It's long past time to focus as an industry on what really will make a huge difference:  increasing sample sizes, better open communication with Nielsen and Numeris clients.

Responsiveness and less secrecy is in order so we all can have more confidence in the data driving our paychecks.

Friday, May 15, 2015


Fred Jacobs' latest blog post, as usual, inspired me into action, especially after I read the response to it by legendary LA GM Roy Laughlin (click the link to read that too).  
I wrote:

There’s no question that Roy Laughlin is a genius and built a lasting dynasty that continues to dominate the Southland thanks to the amazing teams he managed over the years, but before we do a complete 180 lets really study how our streaming listeners use us across all our platforms.

Now that Voltair has “proven” (to me at least) that PPM technology misses a lot of usage, it is tempting to go backward to what we did before, but the industry embraced PPM because of the many flaws of the old diary, not the least of which is the move from landline phones to mobile devices.

Let’s accept that the landscape has completely changed and make use of all the tools in our kit to understand what aspects of our programming work best in each potential venue and customize our content to make the most of all the ways our target is using and will use the new and old technologies based on adoption and usage.

Just as NPR has employed Podcasting to move from their “non-commercial” crowd-source funding over the air analog model to become commercial competition for traditional radio, all of the audio business simply must be open to new business models the internet is opening up.

Since anyone who has seen minute-by-minute reports of streaming usage at local radio stations and compared them to Nielsen PPM data in the same time period know that the two track each other quite accurately, let’s hope that a new, more reliable audience measurement matrix evolves soon that can combine everything we now know about how listeners behave, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

PS:  Do you "like" A&O&B on Facebook? If not, you're missing a lot.