Nielsen radio ratings service begins test next month


The first sweep of all 50 markets won’t come until the spring of 2009, but The Nielsen Company is jumping right into the US radio ratings business with a test next month in one of those markets. Lorraine Hadfield, who’ll be heading the new venture, won’t identify the market because she doesn’t want any stations to try any tricks to skew the ratings. Nielsen already measures radio in 11 other countries and Hadfield had plenty to say about how her company’s service is going to be different from the “status quo” – which we all refer to as Arbitron.

Hadfield may need a title modification, since as Managing Director, International Audience Measurement, she will now be overseeing a domestic operation as well. Hadfield is based in New York already, but the radio measurement operations she has been managing up until now are in Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines and Malaysia.

For the new US service Nielsen will be using the “sticker diary” it introduced this year in Australia. The sheet of stickers will have small labels with the call letters and frequency of each station in the market, which the diary keeper can then place at the top of the weekly diary and indicate which quarter hours they listened to that station as they turn the pages below for each day. We’re told by Nielsen that participants will be able to write in listening for which there is no sticker available. “We will measure any significant out of market stations.  We’ll also credit Internet and Satellite usage to the category called Persons Using Radio (PUR) but we won’t have specific ratings for those stations at this time,” the company said in response to a question from RBR/TVBR.

Nielsen is pitching sample size as an advantage for the new service. For the 50 markets identified as the first for measurement the sample size will depend on the market size – divided into three groups. The smallest will get 1,200 diaries, the middle group 1,600 each and the largest 2,200. Our sources say that’s about double the size of the sample currently used for Arbitron ratings in markets of that size. The annual measurement will take place over an eight-week period in March and April. Because Nielsen wants to make sure it has all of its software right, the 2009 data delivery won’t take place until August. “Typically we would deliver by the month after the sweep,” Hadfield said.

The address-based sample (ABS) frame that Nielsen will be using is designed to identify cell phone-only households and households with unlisted landline phones and include them in recruiting to become diary keepers. ABS is being fully implemented by Nielsen for its November TV sweep this year. Nielsen will be establishing a separate Radio Rating Division to handle management, marketing and such, but recruitment will utilize the same operation as Nielsen’s US television measurement service. By the way, the new operation already has its own page on the company’s website.

Nielsen has multi-year contracts with both Cumulus and Clear Channel for the new service and is now seeking other clients in those 50 markets. “It’s open to all potential subscribers,” Hadfield said, noting that the company has already had talks with some of them. At this point, Nielsen is not saying anything about the potential for expanding beyond the 50 markets being launched in 2009.

In addition to providing larger sample sizes, Hadfield says Nielsen will oversample to target young demos (18-34) and minorities and provide differentiated incentives to attract those hard-to-get demos. “What we’re hearing from our clients is that there’s too much bounce between books and therefore a great deal of concern about whether the data they’re reading is truly attributable to what’s happening in the marketplace,” she said.

Qualitative data will also be part of the new service. The single-source media usage survey will include information for multi-media analysis. There will also be category usage data that radio sales people can use as an ROI tool with local advertisers.

Future plans call for offering diary keepers an online option. That is being deployed in Australia in 2009 and may come to the US operation as soon as 2010.

What about Media Rating Council accreditation? “Basically, for MRC accreditation you have to have the service up and running…once it’s up and running we will go out and seek it,” Hadfield said, noting that The Nielsen Company has people who already know something about the MRC accreditation process.

Measuring US radio is returning Nielsen to its early roots. Arthur C. Nielsen began tracking packaged goods sales in 1933 and, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, began measuring radio listening in 1942. The company’s last radio ratings reports were issued in 1963, the company by then having turned its focus to television measurement.

RBR/TVBR observation: Neither we nor anyone else thinks Nielsen will be content with a service for 50 smaller markets. This is the starting point of a head-to-head competition with Arbitron. In our view, that’s good for radio. It should make Arbitron better and provide broadcasters with something they’ve been seeking for decades – more choice.