Nielsen Schmilsson

With due respect to our friend Harry Nilsson and his fabulous 1970 album "Nilsson Schmilsson, the title of this blog represents the dissatisfaction I detected following ratings company Nielsen's "PPM Enhancements and VOLTAIR Testing Update" webinar on TUESDAY (7/21).

Following the webinar, I spoke to 17 radio managers - a mix of station managers, program directors and chief engineers to hear their take on the ratings service that costs most of them six-plus figures or more a year.

Here are some of their thoughts:

1) The lab testing NIELSEN did with VOLTAIR is inconclusive in real-world analysis. Among the engineers I spoke with who were on the call, real-world PPM device sensitivity is difficult to duplicate in a lab environment. Actionable results in-lab will be few.

2)  In-cabin listening in a vehicle with open windows, low volume radio and even in-car talking is difficult to duplicate. Much of VOLTAIR’s benefit has been experienced in these real-world conditions.

3) In-office listening environments are also difficult to duplicate in order to feel confident in NIELSEN’s testing. The audio artifacts in these environments are tough to predict.

NIELSEN also stated that VOLTAIR can impact audio quality for listeners. There was little agreement with this statement among those I spoke with. As one PD put it, 'Would we be using it if the quality of our on-air sound was negatively impacted? No.'

4) The fact that NIELSEN admitted that VOLTAIR enhanced PPM in “some situations” is a confirmation that in NIELSEN’s eyes, VOLTAIR does improve their technology. Yet they step back by stating 'whether this is true listening is inconclusive at this point.'

Most radio managers I spoke with were disappointed with the call. After months of 'no comment' from NIELSEN, it was generally hoped that a more detailed and finite determination would be presented.

Confusion remains as to the actual meaning of NIELSEN's comment that "Nielsen will not support the VOLTAIRE product."

 Image credit: radioinsights.com

Image credit: radioinsights.com

NIELSEN most certainly will not technically support the VOLTAIRE product...we know that. Through a layer of gauze, the ratings company seems to imply that if a station is using the VOLTAIRE box once they roll out changes in the watermarking algorithm in fourth quarter and distribute new next-generation encoding monitors to all clients in 2016, possible ratings distortion penalties could be assessed.

We really don't know what NIELSEN will do and this is at the core of the ambivalence of most of the managers with whom I spoke. 

Questions remain:

Among them:  How close to VOLTAIR’s solution will NIELSEN's improvements they intend to introduce this fall and will there be additional station expense? 

How will NIELSEN’s 'increased density of PPM codes' compare with results current VOLTAIR users are experiencing?"

Nielsen has three months to answer these questions and others.