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The Midweek Motivator – Nielsen-Motivated

If you missed it Inside Radio broke a coruscating little story that stunned many who digested it. Recently Nielsen commented they would no longer publish listening data for unsubscribing stations within their dataset which drives major buying services, agencies, and large advertisers. Washed through the reference “Subscribers First,” the process goes into effect on January 1st and in practicum, come April 2021.

There’s no complexity here; for some time Nielsen has been inching toward an effective vehicle to coax non-subscribers and lapsed subscribers into the pay-up fold. So, if you wanna play, you gotta pay. In pure business analysis and make no mistake, Nielsen is not a humanitarian public service entity (nor should they be), if no subscription, no tangible evidence your stations exist…almost anywhere.

Our colleagues at Inside Radio point out this process germinated when in 2014 Nielsen stopped releasing ratings of non-subscribers in the top-line numbers it provides to Inside Radio, All Access, Radio Ink, and other key publications. As most of us know regardless of which publication, at 5 PM Eastern as markets are published, only subscribers are listed there. At that time we thought it was unfortunate based on the compaction of markets and obviously absent stations often well known for their consistent ratings success. However, that policy had little negative impact on Agency data and their ratings’ due diligence.

So now, while non-subscribers will be vaporized from Strata and other buying platforms making them invisible to most agencies and buying services, Nielsen says “it will continue to provide them in their respondent level data” (those finely granulated numbers to which almost all its Broadcast customers subscribe). That means subscribing stations will have the ability to see how their non-subscribing competitors are performing.
If you’re keeping score, it’s true; many of Nielsen’s larger agencies do get respondent-level data, though some don’t. And for those who do, information about non-subscribing competitors won’t automatically sluice into the buying systems! This carries major implications.

Nielsen’s Brad Kelly opines, “Those paying for ratings should differentially benefit from that research.” Well, that’s a rational response, and arguably to some degree an understandable position. What concerns our colleagues is the over-arching diminution of radio’s true national audience tonnage and its incredible acceptance from Americans everywhere. Seems to us the choice is simple: rise to the occasion…or lower the occasion.
Kelly tops the tank with this observation: “Radio has had a free-rider problem for a while; non-paying subscribers who are benefitting from a measurement although they don’t support it.”

In the end Nielsen holds the cards and the playing table. But from your humble programming consultants this question: is this healthy for the wide-angle future of radio in 2021…an industry that has resisted recessions, technological innovation and lifestyle shifts? While it will compress Radio’s scope short term, it may ultimately inspire a rival Ratings service to load-up and find better methodology; perhaps as soon as 2021.