Independent estimates put online radio listening at close to 80 million listeners in PPM markets, yet according to Nielsen, streaming listeners total less than half a million.
On top of that, only one quarter of PPM markets have even one station with measurable streaming numbers.
Three-quarters of PPM markets lack a single measurable streaming station.
Can that really be true? Can it be true that essentially no one is listening to the streams of encoded radio stations?
We don’t think so. And a few calculations back up our doubts.
Nielsen publicly releases monthly PPM estimates for all subscribing encoded AM, FM, HD, and streaming radio stations that reach a “minium reporting standard” threshold.
What’s the minimum standard to be rated?
In a PPM market a station only has to achieve a 6+ cume rating of 0.495. In other words, a station only needs a cume audience of one half of one percent of the metro’s population to show up in the book.
If Nielsen is to be believed, out of thousands of broadcast stations that stream, there might be a dozen streaming stations that reach half of one percent of a metro’s population.
Is that reasonable?
Is that likely if PPM really captures and credits streamed listening accurately?
To better understand the extent of the problem and estimate how much radio listening might go missing we decided to look at one small New York Nielsen Audio subscriber, New York Public Radio, operators of WNYC AM/FM and WQXR.
Theoretically Nielsen measures both the analog and digital audiences for the group’s stations. However, the station’s streams don’t show up in the book, suggesting that none of the stations meet Nielsen’s minimum standard.
Fortunately, New York Public Radio also subscribes to Triton Digital to measure the group’s digital properties.
Nielsen and Triton release different metrics, but using a technique Radio Insights first introduced in 2010, we can compare the two company’s ratings.
We convert both service’s ratings into “hours-tuned” a measure that reflects total consumption of a radio station or group.
New York Public Radio is not a client of Harker Research so we don’t have access to complete ratings data for the group, but fortunately the publicly released data is sufficient.
The accompanying table shows a dramatic difference in digital listening:
If we combine New York Public Radio’s PPM estimate of 4.5 million over-air broadcast hours of listening with Triton’s 3.0 million digital hours, we arrive at a total of over 7.5 million broadcast hours total listening to the group.
PPM managed to capture and credit only 60% of the organization’s listening. Or more to the point, PPM might have missed 40%.
Admittedly, comparing the two methodologies are problematic, but Nielsen has demonstrated it’s own willingness to combine disparate methodologies (PDF) to arrive at a single number, so we feel comfortable doing it too.
(The same exercise could be done with any of the commercial groups that subscribe to both Nielsen Audio and Triton Digital, an exercise that we’ll leave to the groups to do themselves.)
How could PPM miss so much streamed listening?
It is considerably more difficult to capture and credit online radio listening than it is to measure analog broadcast station listening.
If PPM misses some listening to analog broadcast stations, it goes without saying that it is going to miss a higher proportions of digital listening.
The fundamental problem is that the digital stream of a broadcast contains much less masking content than the same material broadcast over the air.
Less masking content means fewer opportunities to encode, and a greater chance that station listening credit will be lost.
We’ve heard a great deal about “enhanced” encoding lately, and how it will solve the problem of content dependent PPM decoder capture and crediting.
Nielsen, however, has only addressed this from the standpoint of analog radio. We haven’t heard anything about solving measurement problems unique to streaming.
If radio’s future is digital as everyone seems to agree, the first step is to make sure digital is being measured accurately, and that stations get full credit for their digital audiences.
Next post we’ll explain why digital is so hard to encode. Stay tuned.