Nielsen buys Arbitron…What it REALLY Means to You

It’s not just the Mayan apocalypse that passed uneventfully, it’s also the announcement of another transition – the one that may transform Arbitron into Nielsen.

Much has been written about this announcement over the previous days, most of it anticipating (or at least hoping for) new benefits to radio.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see those benefits.  Not at all.

PPM Sample Size

The most pressing matter for broadcasters is PPM sample size.  And while broadcasters may be footing the bill for Arbitron they are not the audience that Arbitron has most been trying to please:  That audience is your advertisers. And, like it or not, your advertisers do not have a problem with PPM sample size.  In fact, it’s no oversimplification to say that advertisers (and I’m talking about agencies here, not the so-called “end clients”) don’t particularly care whether or not the ratings methodology is right or wrong.  They care only that we have one and that we have ONE, not many.

As a rule, agencies are doing more with less (sound familiar?).  As a result they want their buying decisions to churn faster, not slower.  They want to justify their buys and they want to do it with a minimum of fuss.  Thus they are more intolerant than ever of any nuance or complexity in the process – and “but that number is heavily skewed by one panelist” is exactly the kind of complexity these folks don’t have time or patience for.

So the best strategy for Arbitron or Nielsen is to mollify broadcasters, to make symbolic motions, to amp up the publicity machine, to fundamentally keep you all quiet or numb or both.  Because ultimately it’s what the advertiser says that goes.

Think you’ll see increases to your PPM sample size?  Dream on.

This would not be true in an environment where competition thrives.  But Arbitron has been a virtual monopoly, and Nielsen will now make it a real one (excluding the online radio space, which is a completely different post).  How many favors should you expect from the corporation that has monopolistic control over your measurement methodology and primarily answers to the same customers you call your own?  None.

Rising Costs

Nielsen is already trumpeting the scope of their measurement offerings and novel services for both broadcasters and your clients, and this roster of items is very real.  Every one includes a price-tag, of course.  In the long run, the biggest difference in your relationship with your measurement provider is that they will have more items on their shelves which they will want you to buy.

Your costs will go up, not down.

Measurement Across Platforms

Nielsen is built around the cross-platform needs of its advertising clients.  It is not built to super-serve the needs of any one channel, and that’s because advertisers are no longer looking at the consumer marketplace as channel-centric.  They are looking at content across platforms and, more specifically, consumers across platforms.

We are entering a world where “measurement” is not about what radio a listener consumes.  It’s about how to touch specific consumers across all platforms and measure the responses of those consumers in response to those contacts.  Radio is part of that pie, to be sure, but Nielsen will be no voice for radio.  It will be a voice for the cross-platform, consumer-centric demands of advertisers.

That’s not good or bad.  It’s simply what is.  And it’s in tune with the recognition that radio itself is no longer something which is measured by PPM.  It is measured by connections between consumers and clients in the presence of our brands across platforms.  Not simply impressions, but also by engagement and response – metrics to which Arbitron has always been deaf.

The fact that radio is part of a much larger measurement pie is a reflection of how your clients want to buy media and how consumers behave in the presence of media.

Time to think beyond radio to “media” and the consequences for your platforms, your content, and your structure.

The transition is not from Arbitron to Nielsen.  It’s from radio to “media.”  And from listeners to consumers.

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  • Don Keith

    Mark, I agree wholeheartedly on your last points. But I think agencies…at least those who will continue to be viable…will care more and more about “media” data. Advertisers are demanding more and more accountability, and agencies will have to justify their buys in more ways than CPP and reach/frequency. Justify media against search, SEO, pay-per-lead and pay-per-click. In a word: RESULTS. And the only way to get results is to develop a media mix plus a message that makes sense across all those media. Reliable multimedia data is only a starting point but an important one.

    I would hope Nielsen would hang a PPM on all members of a “Nielsen family” so they can finally measure ALL media. At least all media that makes a noise. Then we know where people go when they leave one medium for another. If a radio station has a powerful morning show, we might find significant listeners leave them after the commute but pick them up right away on the stream at their desks. And them catch the PM drive show on the way home and maybe even pick up the station’s video stream on a cable channel at night (if the station has a video stream, of course!). (Note that one reason this may not happen is that measuring TV viewing in-home with the PPM and the set-top box may show that the meter on top of that set has been measuring “empty-room viewing” all along.)

    That was always Arbitron’s aim for PPM from its very beginning (and I was there in those heady days!): single-source, multimedia, and about as passive as any methodology could be. But is finally realizing that aim a good thing for radio? I agree with you that it is not necessarily…if radio continues to think of itself as an audio over-the-air music streaming or syndicated talk medium with three 5-minute stop sets per hour, priced and sold based on AQH shares of people listening to radio.

    (A blog about rapid technological change and its
    effect on society and media)

  • You ended up in the place I started, Don!

    Cross-platform is only “good” for an industry that sees itself cross-platform.

  • bob lyons

    Amen to your last two sentences. I’m curious about what happens once Nielsen measures Pandora, as Steve Hasker told Bloomberg they would.
    Nielsen leaves Pandora out of their Billboard On Demand charts, (which is like publishing a chart of tablet sales that doesn’t include iPads). I wonder how will they square the circle of keeping radio broadcast clients happy while creating a way for Pandora to better compete for ad dollars?
    Bob L.

  • Pandora only scratches the surface of “other.”

    Frankly, I don’t understand why SiriusXM isn’t measured. I see more usage there than for Pandora in my own research.
    And some of it is for channels which advertisers help support.

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