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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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