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:

Image credit:

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.


Too Comfortable to Compete?

Back in the day - when radio DJs spun vinyl discs on turntables and were key reasons listeners were attracted to specific radio stations, creative and interested program directors often tried to understand what their listeners liked musically.  There were no texts or emails in those days, but request lines and record sales were a good indicator of active listeners' tastes.

In those days that process worked quite well.

Today, programmers of radio stations have much more sophisticated methods of determining tastes in music. Research is more sophisticated. All hail to electronic media, the internet and digital music consumption.

Yet adoption by programmers of the most promising of today's technologies - on-demand music streaming - is very slow.

Why is this?

Comfort = Caution.

I've spoken with hundreds of programmers of music stations in the last twelve months about on-demand streaming. Almost all are excited about the promise of streaming data yet only a small group of forward-thinking programmers are using the data and using it properly. This is a group of programmers whose stations more accurately reflect their listeners' tastes.

There are concerns about the data which I will address in another blog, but in a nutshell the concerns lie with programmers' comfort with the tools they have been using for years: telephone call-out research, auditorium music testing or newer platforms such as Shazam, M-Score and others.

Does it matter to Top 40 programmers that the new Meghan Trainor song "Dear Future Husband" has been one of the most-streamed titles over the last three weeks yet radio has it charted below number 50 this week?

Or to Country programmers, that Luke Bryan's new song "Games" is the hottest Country song streamed over the past three weeks but on the radio charts it's hovering in the 40s?

Are Classic Hits programmers aware that Guns n Roses' "Sweet Child of Mine", "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley and "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede continue to rank in the top 20 most-streamed songs by their audience on-demand?

This is powerful stuff.

And it is very responsive to the real world. When songs become exposed and popularized through TV, movies or commercials the ones that count appear on streaming research giving programmers the chance to mirror interest more quickly than ever before.

According to Nielsen, over 80 percent of music consumption today occurs on-line. That's a convincing statistic in anyone's book for near ubiquity. Yet, the only data that truly reflects this significant consumption of music - on-demand streaming - is not used effectively to reflect tastes in today's popular music.

As discussed in another Bridge Ratings blog, "How On-demand music streaming helps radio programmers", on-demand streaming data indicates that true music consumption today varies from the way radio presents music.

And broadcast radio has a wonderful opportunity - today - to reflect its Unique Purpose in 2015.

Careful attention to and interpretation of on-demand streaming data are at the nucleus of radio's Unique Purpose in 2015.

There are hidden gems in weekly streaming research that confirm radio's long-held purpose of playing the hits and now on-demand data not only shows what the hits are and how long they  truly hold consumers' interest, but it also can easily lead to knowing what new songs to play and how often to play them.

A better indicator than CD sales or even digital downloads, on-demand streaming gets to the root of quantifying song appeal. If a music listener invests time in selecting and listening to songs on-demand, there is legitimate cause to believe they want to hear it.

And on-demand streamies who also listen to music radio (80+ percent) also like to hear the songs they stream on the radio and count on radio to curate songs that may interest them on other platforms.  

One final realization that has come from over a year of studying on-demand streaming metrics: If music radio programmers were to follow the path that this new, important research is providing, their stations will sound more relevant, fresher, stronger and more fun to listen to,

Programmers: if your station's unique purpose is to truly reflect your listeners' tastes, go down this path, study the consumption of your listeners through on-demand streaming and reflect it back to the masses.

It's an exciting time. Technology has given us a gift.

 You may need to put away some old things (call-out or auditorium testing) but this new thing is the greatest new tool in your competitive arsenal and for now your competitor may be too comfortable to be using it.

Dave Van Dyke
Bridge Ratings

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