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.

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.

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!

Measure the Person or Measure the Device

To measure the person or the device is arguably the critical choice for media measurement.

The choice made can shape what one understands about how people use media today and that choice ultimately affects our insights into how we think people will use media tomorrow.

Multi-platform-usage

The media measurement industry understands this, but can do better in explaining to everyone else how that choice matters.

Let’s take broadcast radio and streaming radio as an example.

In the biggest cities in the US, broadcast radio listening is measured by Nielsen’s Portable People Meter, a small passive pager-like device that a person wears on their body, much like…well a pager.

Imagine a person preparing a meal in the kitchen for a 30-minute period, listening to a radio station.  Mid-way through this 30-minute period, they have to step away from the kitchen, and away from the radio, to attend to a child playing outside for 10 minutes.  They return to the kitchen and continue listening to the radio. In this basic example, the meter collecting exposure to the encoded radio signal will indicate they listened to the radio for 10 minutes, stepped away for 10 minutes, and then listened again to the same station for a further 10 minutes – as the meter on the person’s body determines that the person was within earshot of the radio.

Now, using the same scenario, imagine the person is in the kitchen for 30-minutes, but this time is streaming Pandora through their smartphone.  In this scenario, the device (the smartphone), not the person, is being measured.  When the person steps away for 10 minutes to attend to their child playing outside, the device has no way to know whether someone is listening or not.  The end result will show 30 consecutive minutes of uninterrupted listening to Pandora on the person’s smartphone, regardless of whether there was one person or many persons listening to any of the streaming music.

Hence the biggest disadvantage to measuring the device.  It might be ‘playing’, but is anyone listening?  Is anyone watching?  Is anyone actively engaged with the content?

And yes, I recognize that the PPM is not foolproof either, but at least it measures exposure to an audio signal which is equated as listening.

Reviewing the streaming data will show an uninterrupted 30-minute period of listening.  It will likely be assumed that the person is paying full attention to Pandora’s music, even when other lifestyle data will indicate that people come and go from their audio playing device whether it is a broadcast radio or a streaming device.  Some will conclude that people spend longer periods of time engaged and listening to Pandora than their local radio station, which is also wrong.  Data points like this will then be used to support the continued push of some services over others because listening and time spent listening metrics that look similar, but aren’t, are compared to one another as if they are apples-to-apples.

Misuse of data is nothing new – politicians do this to their advantage, businesses do the same.  In my experience, it’s seldom as intentional as one might conclude, still it’s harder to correct a misstated fact than it is to get it correct in the first place.  But it happens.  It keeps researchers busy and it drives them crazy at the same time! And it’s a classic example of how media measurement data is used to support an argument without fully understanding how it was being collected.

Measurement in the web/mobile space is just as complicated and can be fraught with even more misconceptions.

In recent years, both Nielsen and ComScore have moved towards building more sophisticated user-panels to measure web usage in an attempt to measure across devices, which still remains as the holy grail for digital measurement.  But this approach is arguably open to misuse through measurement boosters from fake users.  Companies themselves can collect data from their own servers, as many newsrooms currently do, but even this is flawed as these systems struggle to differentiate a user that might access a site through four different devices and be counted as four different users.  Hence, panels of people become the preferred approach, despite the pros and cons that come with almost any data source.

Media measurement is a critical field to better understand media behavior and prompts us to think about a critical choice – measure the person or measure the device. Let’s also not forget the second part  – understanding how the data was collected and how it should be explained in the bigger media-using picture.

This is not about earbuds

If you show a ratings chart that pulls people out of their comfort zone, then inevitably their reaction is to focus on what is missing and what was not counted.  After all, that would explain the demise in the ratings.

From afar, this has been the reaction I have seen to the RRC‘s recent report on broadcast radio listening trends for US public radio, as well as trends for all radio.

The chart below is a wake-up call for the entire radio industry because it shows that there has been a steady (but also alarmingly quick) decline in the percentage of persons aged 6+ who listen to any measured media, which in this case is effectively any measured FM/AM/HD station.

Image

The chart shows that radio usage has fallen by 13% on weekdays in the past three years across the 30 markets measured by Nielsen Audio’s PPM.

This naturally alarms anyone working in radio.  As a presenter of this type of “bad” news for many years in many settings, the reaction from readers and from those in the room is part-defensive and part-wanting to understand.

The defensiveness or denial stems from the worry that one’s own livelihood is on the line, that the data confirms their worst fear that though their own media behavior hasn’t changed, the mainstream has, and that change is permanent.

This is a very human reaction, but as Mark Ramsey points out “In order to rally and fight a problem, we must begin by recognizing its existence“.  Holding onto the standard claims about the near universal reach of radio conveniently sidesteps the critical issue of engagement with radio.

The “wanting to understand” entails listening to each of the theories proposed that explain the ratings demise.  Some have credit, which should be acknowledged to aid understanding, but many can be debunked where necessary, in order to help people focused on what is real or not and what is within their control.

Don’t get me wrong, the ratings chart above effectively does not include headset listening; the workaround provided is simply not used by the ‘average Joe’.  But if you see someone wearing a headset, are you willing to say that person is absolutely listening to a local FM/AM station?  Probably not.

Yes, streaming is growing exponentially and it is the future for audio.  But take a 1-minute look at the Triton Digital Rankers report and you’ll see that the “Pandora train” has already left the station, leaving other pure-plays and broadcast networks holding only steady, and far, far behind, at best.

True, podcasts are not counted in the ratings.  Sure, it alters listening behavior so that I can listen to a show when I want to, but I haven’t seen any data yet that justifies the claim that if it weren’t for podcasts, my numbers would be much, much higher.

What’s left is what’s within your control.  Not how media consumption is measured.  Not about what content is or not counted. Not whether there was an election this time last year.  It’s about making what you do – audio, video, words – the very best it can be and the most compelling for your audience. Again and again.

Ratings tell us where we’ve been and can project where we’re going.  They can also show whether what we currently do has a future.  By all means, absorb them, understand them, and go ahead and poke holes in them, but don’t sit still in your comfortable seat and blame it on the earbuds.

Image