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.
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.
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3 years ago