Passive Measurement for Radio Awaits the Verdict

A recent FiveThirtyEight article on the Voltair/PPM saga is another landmark moment in the growing credibility problems Nielsen is enduring this year with its inherited PPM device.  Nielsen’s unwillingness to respond or vigorously deny the possible inflated numbers when stations use the Voltair meter only serve to fan the flames further, conspiracy or otherwise.

PPM-Minutes_listenedOn the one hand, it makes little difference.  If the Voltair audio technology does allow PPM devices to more effectively pick up more of the encoded signal that says a radio station is near, then stations should go get one.  If it’s available to all, then there is no unfair advantage to those who purchase the extra boost – akin to the survival of the fittest.  As Radio Consultant, Mark Ramsey argues, “Just keep in mind that all one is doing here is you are boosting exposure to an audio signal” – not listening or engagement or passion or interest or anything else.

On the other hand, the cautious approach by Nielsen here is the right one, even if it is frustrating in our fast-moving world that gravitates to immediacy and headlines, rather than process and review.  The stakes here are very high.  Being as thorough and rigorous as possible may save the industry from a needless exposure of a false-positive for the radio measurement industry.  The credibility of the ratings would be shot and advertisers could quickly decide that radio is no longer viable in the data-rich digital age.

After al, that’s what this is about – the credibility of the ratings – and whether or not they are flawed, and if so, by how much?  In the meantime, US Radio continues to wait.

Before the merge…offline versus online

Over the past few days, I have seen a post on TV measurement from The Wall Street Journal  make the rounds on numerous media blogs and groups on LinkedIn and thought it would be worth highlighting here.

nielsen tvThe basic story is that Nielsen has attempted to measure across different platforms – as Nielsen uniquely can – to see where people really spend their time between various devices – namely Television, Radio, PC’s, and Smartphones.  Low and behold, when one makes a genuine effort to paint an entire picture, not a partial one, then it becomes clear that the TV landscape is not ready to die just yet.  The same narrative could also be made about FM/AM radio when making comparisons to the many streaming competitors – even in the US market where radio usage has been in long-term decline since before the arrival of iPods, iPhones, and numerous new audio services.

Nielsen’s newly released Quarter 1 Total Audience Report is well worth the read.  It’s another example of how Nielsen has to persist by being as objective as it can to all of the different platforms it can measure – as well as be one of the few trying to paint that entire picture, with or without comparable metrics and a full dataset.

It has to be nice to everyone to ensure that both broadcasters and digital players stay with Nielsen and don’t go off and seek another measurement company or another metric that likes them better.

It’s also telling that cross-media measurement still has a long, long way to go to best understand the value of how different media can be measured equitably.  Note that the WSJ article gets a little sidetracked with comparing seconds of video and minutes of TV – a notable point, but the report has so much more to say.

At some point – the optimist in me says 3 years, but it could be as many as 5-10 – this understanding of old and new media will be a thing of the past and reports like this will update the trends on what is up and what is down.  In the meantime, we’re still stuck in this offline, online world.

Facebook Raising the Bar for Audience Engagement

In a nod to the quickly evolving world of audience measurement – as well as an acknowledgement that metrics need to develop even more quickly to keep up with behaviour – Facebook used its considerable clout to redefine engagement.  It did this the old-fashioned way – tracking how long people spend looking at individual items (in their newsfeed).

Why?  Because a like (or don’t like), a comment, or a share doesn’t necessarily = it wasn’t for them.

22nd-June-2015-Why-Facebook-Is-Tracking-Time-Spent-On-NewsfeedsThat’s right – sometimes people just want to see information without putting their stamp of approval on it.  That’s a good thing, particularly for global content providers who serve audiences across a wide variety of cultures, some of which would frown upon the acts of liking or commenting.

It’s also a smart move because more and more people, especially in younger demos, are using Facebook much more passively than when Facebook first burst onto the scene.  Engagement can mean many things across different media and Facebook has taken a big step in acknowledging audiences can interact with content in many different ways and how we measure needs to account for that.

Media Research Needs to Evolve Even Faster

Whether you have been in market or media research for 5 years or 20 years or many more, then you know that the discipline is going through a ferocious pace of change, just like seemingly every other industry.

The-Smarter-Researcher-300x226And it needs to.  Think about your own media habits and the media devices that you owned even five years ago or look around your own home or office and you can tell how the new normal for many of us is to constantly add to or replace older devices.  That opens the door for market researchers to help companies understand people’s changing needs and behaviours.

It’s also on the research industry’s shoulders to keep evolving, arguably faster, to narrow the gap between new behaviour and understanding what’s driving it.  Actually measuring those new behaviours is a topic for another day and one that the industry is really struggling to control.

This background makes the new report, The Smarter Researcher by Ray Poynter, a very worthwhile and readable read – not just for media researchers, but any form of market research.  Ray lists 10 steps that market researchers can do to enhance its relevance.  These are great steps for any researcher, young or old, to aspire to in their everyday work.

  1. Separate the Signal From the Noise
  2. Traditional Surveys Aren’t Enough
  3. Big Data isn’t Enough
  4. Engage Customers in an Ongoing Two-Way Partnership
  5. Become A Storyteller
  6. Go Mobile
  7. Embrace Innovation
  8. Connect the Dots
  9. Translate Business Problems
  10. Break out of the Market Research Silo

If you haven’t already, go download the report from the Vision Critical website.

The Internet of Things and Your Audience

The so called “Internet of Things” is developing quickly and is no longer explained as your refrigerator warning that you are low on milk and cheese.

theinternetofthings2Effectively, it’s the third wave of the internet.  Wave 1 was in the 90’s when the fixed internet connected 1 billion users via PC’s.  Then the mobile internet of the 2000’s connected 2 billion users via smartphone. Now wave 3, the internet of things, is expected to connect 28 billion things to the internet by 2020 ranging from wearables, cars, appliances, and industrial equipment.  Naturally, the repercussions will be huge, but many years from now, I think it will be the speed of that comparative change that will leave us with our heads spinning.

While this will change how all of our devices – screen or otherwise – communicate around us, it’s worth thinking about how the internet of things will change how we consume and how we experience.

Content makers take note because the internet of things will also overhaul audience measurement in a way that will leave it unrecognisable in a very short time.  After all, from signing into any website or volunteering to be tracked, the audience can now be asked about how they discovered your content, how they engaged with your content, how and why did they complete consumption, and what are their reflections.

All fantastic stuff to know, so long as you then pledge to do something with all of that information.  No doubt more companies will get this wrong then get it right, but even small changes can go a long way.

It’s time to get the ball rolling again

ball_rollingIt has been too long.

Much has happened since the last post here – both professionally and personally.  My wife and I have turned our lives upside down by leaving the US and moving to the UK, an unexpected return for me but a fresh start for her and our two daughters.

Future posts here will be short but more frequent.  There’s lots to share here – people’s behaviour with media is not going to stop evolving and changing any time soon.  Content providers are not going to sit still and technology companies will continue to create more amazing devices and services that we did not know we need.  It’s never dull and it’s constantly changing – that’s why I love to write about it.

Weekly Review: More new TV gadgets and music services

Another week saw another new TV product released.  This time, it was Google’s turn who announced a forthcoming ‘Android TV’ Set Top Box.  This follows Amazon’s recent Fire TV, of which Android TV will resemble, except the voice-recognition and that it’s Google and likely knows a lot about you.  I do share Steve Smith‘s confusion over Google’s move, given it will run directly against the Google Chromecast, which while only a first generation device has been a game changer in my household. Gigaom go into greater depth here about Google’s ultimate goal with the new TV product.

Sticking with Google, the company announced a surprising used-car dealer tactic by selling its Google Glass for $1,500 for one day only – this Tuesday (April 15th, which maybe coincidentally is US Tax Day).  I am sure these will sell quickly, despite the price.

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/11/one-day-only-google-offers-glass-to-anyone-in-the-u-s/?

Google hope to attract doctors to test Google Glass this week

On the Music service front, this week was Samsung’s turn with the announcement of a new deal with Deezer, which will be provided for free for six months to Europeans who purchase the new Samsung Galaxy S5 phone.  Of course free music services (from Spotify, Rdio, etc) begs the questions as to how musicians are supposed to make money.

In news that surprised no one in US Radio, Nielsen Audio announced at last week’s NAB conference in Las Vegas that they will integrate broadcast and webcast (streaming) ratings.  Only a few technical details were released, announcing that the listening data will include the device (web player, mobile app, etc), the listener attributes (age, location either in-home or out-of home), and importantly de-duplication between broadcast and webcast.  Triton Ratings have already moved into the local webcast metrics reporting and their monthly reports confirm the gigantic lead in streaming that Pandora has built in recent years.  It will be fascinating to see how Nielsen plays in tandem between traditional broadcast clients and new webcast clients, a topic I had blogged about here a couple of years ago when Arbitron, who were later bought out by Nielsen, first announced its Total Audience Measurement metric.

Finally, I’d like to recommend a thoughtful piece from Medium about how the newspaper industry is thinking how best to archive yesterday’s news.  And if you are history buff with another spare moment, I would wholeheartedly recommend a quick browse at the stunning NewYork TimesMachine.

Can Long-Form Journalism Survive our Changing Morning Routine?

From the moment we roll out of bed in the morning until we walk out the front door to start our work-day, we consume an astonishing amount of news, music, information, and other media content.

It wasn’t always this way.  In the span of just a few years, we have replaced the comparative tranquility of easing out of bed with the clock radio and skimming the newspaper for the day’s headlines to today where we juggle numerous devices to scan what happened while we were asleep (email, social media, news headlines, and much more) and we start to plan for the day ahead (weather, traffic, etc.).  It’s an endless chase to stay informed by always being ‘plugged in’ as we fear missing out on any small thing.  And it’s now starting to reshape our expectations for our news needs in the mornings before we even properly start our day.

Slide1

Mornings before digital devices

The changing taste in how people want to hear and consume their morning news was one of the key findings from a recent study I led for a top-market US Public Radio station.  This NPR News station airs Morning Edition, the top rated morning show on radio, which nationally reaches more than 13 million listeners each week.  The three-part study consisted of an online survey to better understand their audience needs and expectations, a two-day morning-media diary which was used to track what devices and sources people used from the time they wake up to the time they start their work or school day, as well as a review of the local Nielsen Audio PPM broadcast ratings.

What was most striking about the study results was not just what was being said in the surveys and the media diaries, but who was asking for a change – public radio listeners, a group who depend on, crave for, and value long-form news journalism – which is the unique selling point of public radio.  When this audience voices a desire to hear something new that focuses on the headlines, on “what I need to know right now” in a much shorter, high-impact form, asking to hear “what I need to know today to better understand what I will face tomorrow”, along with the basics – the weather, traffic, the stock market, etc. – then you can arguably point to the beginnings of a massive shift in appetite for news consumption.

While the desire for the sound and feel of NPR/Public Radio remains strong, the audience is starting to point to a different model that is more in-tune with their activities at the start of the day.  It was telling in the morning diaries filled out by the study’s respondents that beyond NPR (as well as the New York Times to some degree), that there was very little long-form journalism consumed in the mornings, even by these loyal public radio listeners.  There simply isn’t time, given their behavior and the array of gadgets and sources to check.

This big shift in news appetite points to an irony for NPR and Public Radio.

NPR’s long record of success stems from its quest to provide in-depth, quality news, while following both the critical stories of the day and tracking complex issues over the long-term.  Public Radio built this success at the same time that much of the rest of the news media resorted to hollow sound-bites, providing little to inform and educate.  Now, listeners are indicating they want the short-form, but they want  it to retain that public radio feel.

To be fair, NPR is already embracing this challenge with its efforts with member stations to change the show clocks to its two premier shows. NPR’s desire to have different clocks in the morning and the afternoon is smart considering how differently people use media throughout the day.  But arguably, the clock changes alone won’t help bridge the gap to satisfy the audience’s changing needs and routines.  On both the national level and the local level, the content can be changed to better fit the digitally-influenced morning appetite for news.  Looking further into the data, there is also a second major finding that speaks to morning activities and the ever-increasing demand to hear fresh, new content, throughout the morning given radio’s capacity to be everywhere.

As almost any devoted Morning Edition listener will tell you, the show is two-hours long and is normally repeated at least once or more depending on where you listen in the US.  Hearing the same stories repeated (either from the network or at the local level) on the same morning was the top reason for tune-out and led those listeners to go elsewhere, away from their local public station.  This is not a result of listening for more than two hours at a time in the morning, although that does happen, but instead it’s more a function of our uniquely and ever-increasingly busy mornings – in other words, multiple occasions of listening across the morning.

For example, a person might wake up around 5am and hear the show as they get ready in the morning to make their way to the gym or do yoga.  Then they might hear the show in the kitchen as they get the kids and family ready to start the day.  They might hear it again in the car on the way to work or school, and they might listen again, likely via streaming, in the workplace.  This means a person might hear the show (and quite possibly the same story two or three times) in three or four different environments (bedroom/kitchen/car/workplace) and through different channels (radio, computer, or mobile device)  This provides a very unique challenge to programming in the mornings and it points to the likelihood that a sizable part of the audience will likely hear the same story over several occasions of listening.  Given the numerous occasions of listening that are possible, listeners might stay engaged longer if the content was fresh.

Once again, the media diaries highlighted the unique companionship that radio provides unlike any other media device – being preset in every morning activity – though seemingly that’s still a surprise to some.  But radio faces the same battle as every other media choice – that once you lose the attention of your audience, they will simply go elsewhere to find what they want.  It is hard to imagine a time when the value of NPR and Public Radio has been as high as it is now, given today’s news choices.  No one would fault an industry that holds onto its ideals in a business world that is being completely disrupted by itself and new competitors, but changes in how we use media are happening right now, in every demographic and during every part of the day.  Let’s hope that public radio can find a way to balance what makes it distinct and so valuable to so many and meet our changing needs and routines for consuming news.

Weekly Review: The web gets ready for its 25th anniversary

A relatively quiet week compared to the quick pace of change established so far this year.  Facebook’s acquisition of What’sApp is still generating waves of reaction. Surprisingly, while WhatsApp has 200 million users worldwide, there are only 7 million users within the US, which puts the headline-making 230% growth into context.

Elsewhere, the Web turns 25 this month.  The anniversary marks the release in 1989 of a paper written by Sir Tim Berners-Lee who proposed an “information management” system that later became the architectural structure of the web.  The upcoming anniversary has been covered here in a 2-minute clip by the BBC and the impact of the web in the US has already been covered extensively by Pew Internet.

Given Nielsen’s vast scope of media measurement services, it’s well worth paying attention when CEO Mitch Barnes speaks of the changes he/they see coming in video consumption – because you know they have the data to support their predictions.  Staying with the data theme, Charlene Weisler, shed some light on Project Blueprint, which is causing some waves now that it has some investment from ESPN.  The cross-measurement project consists of a mix of comScore’s hybrid online & mobile measurement, Nielsen (once Arbitron) Portable People Meters for TV, Radio and Out-of-home, as well as 5 million top box data households from an array of sources. This magnitude of resources demonstrates what it takes to move ahead in the field of cross-platform measurement.

News organisations, who are already seeing declining audiences in the early evenings as people’s news tastes have either splintered across many more sources or they might be returning from work already news-saturated, might have another competitor to worry about. Slate is getting serious about a daily evening podcast.  After a rocky start, podcasts are quickly moving into the mainstream with consumers becoming increasingly savvy, not to mention there is some great content out there.

Meanwhile, this week in the US, many media researchers will be paying attention to the latest tech usage trends from the Infinite Dial.  For the first time, the annual study is being co-presented by Edison Research and Triton Digital – a good thing in my opinion.  Few will be surprised to hear that 1/3 of US adults tune into Pandora each month, as Triton’s own monthly rankers show.  Still, the webinar is well worth a listen to – so sign up!

The week in review: February 21st

Below is a quick summary of the top media stories from the past seven days, as well as new insights on media usage.

whatsapp

At this rate, no one will regard 2014 as a quiet year for media.

This week,  Facebook announced its acquisition of WhatsApp for a mere $19 billion.  Here’s one explanation as to why Facebook pulled off this surprise and here’s HBR’s perspective, which I think hits the nail on the head when it points out that unless you [Facebook] create an alternative, someone else will do it for you.  The waves created by this acquisition appeared to take some of the media spotlight away from the competitive concerns about Comcast’s plan to purchase Time Warner Cable, which are further magnifying the concerns about a US broadband crisis, something I can testify to myself after this past week on the home-front.

The Sochi Winter Olympics  are reaching their grand finale this weekend, which might be just as well for US audiences as ratings and interest starts to decline.  So far, interest has remained lower than the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.  However, Jimmy Fallon made a strong start as the new host of the iconic Tonight Show.  Mike Bloxham opines that he expects to see the new host perform well at bridging the generation gaps.

If you haven’t seen it already, eMarketer has put out it’s 2014 Key Digital Trends report and PewInternet has identified six types of Twitter conversation with a report to explain it all.  Speaking of Twitter… the most eye-catching stat of the week: half of all tweets about Television are about Sports, yet in the US, Sports makes only 1.2% of all TV programming.

Another top newspaper – the Boston Globe – is moving to a metered pay-wall, which will make their digital traffic, not to mention their future revenues, from this point forward very telling.

For now at least, Brits continue to watch telly on the television.  A new Thinkbox study shows that the average viewer watched only three minutes of TV on mobile devices; it’s hard to envision this number not increasing sharply soon. Meanwhile, the BBC World Service announced plans to launch a teenage news bulletin – similar to BBC Radio 1’s NewsBeat –  to gain younger audiences – they already reach 192 million people globally.

Did I miss any other major stories this week?  I’m sure I did.  If you think so, please do add them in the comments section below.