It’s an important question that’s not easy to answer.
Early on with few stations using the box it was easy to tell which stations were using Voltair. They were the stations spiking in the ratings.
Now with penetration increasing, we have Voltair stations competing against other Voltair stations.
If one one station installs a Voltair and spikes, then other stations lose share, even other Voltair stations. That’s because share is a zero sum game.
And if every station in a market has Voltair?
In that case we reach some sort of new equilibrium when finally shares are based on each station’s popularity, not the encodability of their formats.
So if every station has a Voltair, how do we now figure out whether Voltair works?
The answer is to look at over-all radio listening. That’s where Average Quarter-Hours (AQH) come in.
AQH is a measure of the average number of people listening to radio.
If every station finally gets credit for all the listening it generates, not just the part that PPM can decode, then share could remain the same while AQH increases.
So the key to understanding Voltair’s impact on radio is to look at AQH.
The transition to PPM wiped out about 30% of radio listening. We were told at the time that PPM is more accurate than diaries, and that people never really listened to radio as much as they said they did.
Since the roll-out of PPM time spent with radio as measured by PPM has continued to erode each year, something around 5% a year.
We have argued that methodological flaws in PPM and faulty measurement could very well be behind much if not all of the decline.
The problem was that without an alternative to PPM it was difficult to prove.
We speculated very early on that Voltair would increase over-all listening as more and more stations got full credit for their listening.
Now Voltair has provided us the closest thing to a smoking gun confirming that PPM is undercounting listening.
We examined AQH ratings across all non-embedded PPM markets comparing 2015 to 2014, and then comparing that period to the previous year.
The two graphs show what we found.
The first graph shows year-over-year changes in AQH ratings with each month indexed to the same month the previous year.
An index of less than 100 means that radio’s audience declined. An index over 100 means that radio’s listening increased–as measured by Nielsen.
The first thing to note is that the index was well below 100 for all of 2014. That means listenership across PPM markets was lower in 2014 than 2013.
And if you go back further, you’ll find the same pattern, a decline every year since PPM rolled out.
Look what happened beginning with February of this year. The index moved steeply upwards.
Since then AQH has increased every single month, even cracking 100 in March.
That means for the first time PPM is showing listenership growth. That is unheard of.
The next graph shows the growth differently. This graph shows the proportion of markets that saw their AQH grow year-over-year.
2014 was typical of previous years. Each year a handful of markets would gain AQH, perhaps three or four, while the majority of markets would lose AQH.
Since the appearance of Voltair we’ve seen the number of markets growing AQH tremendously increase. In July 2015 ten times as many markets grew compared to July 2014.
Maybe there is some other explanation for this unprecedented growth, but the growth coincides with the introduction of Voltair.
Isn’t it likely that Voltair stopped radio’s decline?
Voltair critics will claim that an index of 103 suggesting 3% growth is anemic, and nothing to shout about. However, we have to put the recent rate of growth in the context of over a decade of decline.
PPM declines in 2014 were approaching 5% before Voltair’s appearance. So far this year the swing is 8%, and that is something to shout about.
We predicted that if Voltair worked it would float all boats, that it would help the industry push back on the notion that radio is dying. It has done exactly that.
Still think Voltair is a bad thing for radio?