10/12

Why Are You Trusting Your Ratings to Nielsen?

Nielsen_small

I have largely steered clear of the Voltair/Nielsen discussion (except for this piece) because it’s so simple: It’s a classic evolutionary dilemma, and in those evolutionary dilemmas the individuals who are most capable of adapting survive and those most finely tuned to their changing environments thrive. In other words, those who spend their hard-earned bucks on Voltair gadgets will have an advantage over those who do not.

Now Nielsen announces that it’s “improving” its technology so as to provide every participant a level playing field and perhaps eliminate the “need” for Voltair altogether.

The technology is designed to provide truer measurement in what Nielsen calls “challenging acoustic conditions,” also known as conditions in which listeners are less likely to be hearing what audio they’re exposed to – certainly less likely to be paying attention to that audio. Tell that to your clients: Now radio is getting credit for the kind of listening that listeners don’t notice. Good luck on your campaign!

Now radio is getting credit for the kind of listening that listeners don't notice! Click To Tweet

Nielsen’s report on the success of its “improvement” is curious, however.

Nielsen’s tests were run on only 19 stations, and of those, “39% showed a 0.1 point AQH ratings gain after rounding.”

“After rounding”? That means we could be talking about an increase of 0,05 points, and something tells me we probably are. There were two cases of an increase that rounds to 0.2 – two out of nineteen.

But here’s what Nielsen is mum about: What about the other 61% (I’ll assume the two “big-gainers” were in the original 39%)? Were they flat? Were they down?

Indeed, how do we know that the results of this test produced anything other than a normal distribution of tiny change – some up, some down, most unchanged? Nielsen reported the “up” scores but declined to report all scores, at least in the post-reporting I have read.

Is it possible that this “improvement” will punish my station to the tune of a number that rounds to 0.1 AQH rating? Why not? Nielsen appears to be reporting your chances of winning without acknowledging your greater chances of losing or coming out equal.

Another point: If every station were to rise by 0.1 AQH rating (easily the best case general scenario and the one that Nielsen wants you to believe is possible for all stations even though statisticians would be laughing their heads off) then the total listening audience in this time window rises and your AQH share stays the same. That means you will be fighting to the same AQH share and rank outcome you experience now, just 0.1 AQH rating higher.

More likely, some stations will add 0.1 AQH rating while others will shed the same. End result: A world unchanged from the one you know today. And that is a world where far too few PPM devices are delivered to far too few households in even the largest markets. If you do better math on the wrong sample, is the math really better?

Let me answer that: No.

Besides, is being 0.1 AQH rating “too low” this radio’s biggest problem? 

From Radio Ink:

At the end of the day what radio needs is a currency it can rely on and one that advertisers can trust. Everyone agrees on that.

Well obviously this is a currency you can’t rely on, otherwise we wouldn’t be discussing “improvements” to basic functionality several years in. We wouldn’t be obsessing over 0.1 AQH rating as if that amounts to a meaningful competitive advantage even if many of our competitors enjoy the same increase. We wouldn’t be spending a bunch of money on Voltair workarounds when that same bunch of money could be used to attract new listeners through research or marketing rather than to round up Nielsen’s rounding errors. We wouldn’t be fretting measurement in “challenging acoustic conditions” when the most salient challenging condition is a too-small sample distributed poorly and stretched far too thin.

My point is that this is a lot of distracting noise. Advertisers are not redistributing their dollars across the new media space because they lack trust in Nielsen’s measures, they’re doing it because they can. They’re doing it because the value propositions being presented to them compel them to do so. Unless they’re chasing the cheapest cost-per-point, they’re doing it because their clients demand results, no matter what configuration of media provides them.

How will this “improved” technology make your station more relevant and compelling for consumers? How will it make your station more impactful for clients? How will it make your station the least bit better compared to the plethora of media alternatives facing both consumers and clients?

Focus on what matters first. Focus on what matters most.

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