As the graph shown below illustrates, the Baltimore AQH rating index increased 4% with enhancement.
The odd thing, however, is that the Baltimore AQH index increased nearly 9% the month before the enhancement!
In fact, the Baltimore AQH index has increased for seven straight months, an unprecedented string of listening gains, the longest since Baltimore became a PPM market in 2009.
Take a closer look at the graph.
If the graph looks familiar, you may have read an earlier Radio Insights post documenting unprecedented national AQH growth.
Each month’s data point is an index based on the same month the previous year. An index over 100 means listening increased over the same month in the previous year. An index below 100 means that listening declined over the previous year.
The six months prior to May 2015 are all below 100. That means for every month between November 2014 and April 2015 Baltimore radio listening declined. Every month.
Feel free to check out the months prior the point where the graph begins. You will find that Baltimore radio has been declining for quite some time.
Something magical happened to Baltimore radio in May 2015.
After months of decline, total listening in May pulled even with the previous year. Since then listening has steadily grown, now standing 25% higher than at the same time last year.
How do we explain this miraculous turnaround?
We know that a third of Baltimore stations were using a Voltair during Nielsen’s enhancement tests. We have no way of knowing when the stations put them on the air, but given the ratings turn-around in May we would guess installations were underway by April.
Because Baltimore radio started growing in May—well before enhanced encoding—it is going to be difficult to determine how much enhancement is boosting ratings.
Individual stations are going to be able to determine the impact to their numbers, but aggregate market numbers won’t be very useful in determining the impact of Nielsen’s new encoder algorithm because market numbers include both stations that are only using the enhanced encoders and those using both Voltair and enhanced encoders.
In truth it doesn’t matter.
Radio benefits if AQH ratings go up regardless of whether the gains come from enhanced encoders, Voltair, or some combination of the two.
If a flawed measurement system was missing ten, fifteen, or twenty percent of radio listening as it now appears, it means that radio is worth more than PPM said it was worth.
And it proves that local radio listening was not declining at the rate PPM said it was.
No station is willing to publicly address the question of Voltair with the updated encoder, put privately we have been told that the enhanced encoder is like Voltair-lite. It does improve the reliability of encoding, but not as much as Voltair.
It will be several months before the full impact of enhanced encoding is reflected in the ratings. We hope Nielsen will then analyze PPM numbers across all markets to tell the industry what the new more accurate national numbers are.
That’s worth a press release.