After Years Of Asks, Nielsen Acquiesces On PPM Earbud Detection


For years, the radio industry has bemoaned that it is not getting proper credit for consumption via headphones — specifically, the listening of a broadcast station’s audio streams on a smartphone via wireless headsets, and perhaps the lone individual using wired headphones in summer 2020.

Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic battering ad revenue across the radio industry and Cume levels collapsing at the height of the pandemic’s shelter-at-home restriction period, Nielsen Audio is making a change.

In a Tuesday webinar, Nielsen revealed that starting with the October 2020 PPM monthly currency report, it will adjust its audience estimates to account for headphone listening to encoded AM, FM, and HD-multicast station streams.

Why? “Better accounting for headphone listening boosts total radio Average Quarter Hour by 2%-5%,” it claims.

This expected increase for individual stations/streams will vary based on market, daypart, demographic, and other factors, Nielsen says.

And, the adjustment factors Nielsen Audio will use will be informed by a survey of former PPM panelists.

At present, the PPM is not compatible with the ever-popular earbud, and “panelists may not always use the PPM headphone adapter when listening via wired headphones.” As such, Nielsen says, “We believe that the headphone adjustment will better account for the variety of ways panelists hear radio station streams whether out loud via radio speaker, computer speaker, or privately via wired or wireless headphone.”

And, the timing couldn’t be better, as Cume is nearly back to where it was in February, before the total number of listeners to radio in PPM-based markets sank by the hundreds of thousands. It led national radio to rely on Fall 2019 data for moving forward with its ad-buying needs.

However, Cume estimates will not be adjusted with the headphone adjustment. As such, it is a potential boost for Average Quarter Hour Persons, rating, share, Time Spent Listening and Turnover — all keys for greater revenue potential for ailing radio broadcasters.

And, Nielsen Audio says, the headphone adjustment will increase market totals (PUMM). As such AQH Share estimates may be affected for all stations, whether or not they have an encoded AM/FM stream.

That said, encoding will likely have its benefits, giving some stations a boost where it is present — much like Voltair has aided stations heavily using the audio watermark solution to boost PPM detection.

“Estimates will not be affected for stations that do not have encoded streams,” Nielsen Audio says.


Also addressed in the Tuesday session was “outlier mitigation.”

The outlier is a subject that has been addressed by RBR+TVBR in recent years. For some radio industry professionals, the presence of an outlier has called into question the data they are receiving, and bringing it to the attention of company owners. But, are certain radio broadcasters overreacting? Or, is there good reason to question information used to drive revenue, or perhaps a company’s stock value or long-term drive to erase debt?

Two Nielsen Audio representatives agreed in September 2017 to speak with RBR+TVBR on the matter, on background. The information they provided placed an important spotlight on a hard topic for even those in the radio industry’s C-Suites to digest.

Three years later, Nielsen Audio now plans to address “the most impactful of these cases” with a so-called outlier mitigation, which could diffuse the instances where stations experience “unusual increases in the ratings” based on a single panelist or home with “very heavy listening” that contributes more than half of a station’s audience.

How will it work? Households and panelists identified as Outliers will remain in the panel — assuming that they are compliant and are not a security risk. However, Nielsen Audio says, heavy tuning to a station that exceeds a specified threshold will be trimmed to the level of the next heaviest listener from another household.

“This approach will address the most significant cases without detracting from Persons Using Measured Media (PUMM) or removing compliant homes from the panel,” Nielsen believes.

RBR+TVBR‘s request for an interview with Nielsen Audio Managing Director Brad Kelly was declined, as “he and most of the audio team are in heavy budget meetings,” a Nielsen spokesperson said.

But, Nielsen’s literature provided to the radio trade press Tuesday notes, “While Outlier Mitigation won’t solve every unexplained jump, it will put guardrails around the most impactful cases.”