Radio People Meters – radioinfo speaks to Mark Neely

This week radioinfo continues its coverage of ratings and radio people meters with a discussion about ACNielsen’s proposals for meters in the Australian market.

Mark Neely, Client Director of Nielsen Media Research Australia spoke to radioinfo about how people meters work and what implications they might have for the radio industry. Neely has also written a detailed article about radio people meters for the radioinfo site, called “The Movement to Meters for Radio” (see below).

radioinfo: One of the disadvantages of diaries is that they are usually based on recall of listening rather than actual listening. Will the new electronic metres completely solve this problem?

Neely: Electronic meters will measure “exposure” rather than “listening.” The Watch Meter records 4-second sound grabs every minute and these are later matched with studio recordings – thus measuring everything to which a respondent is exposed. It’s therefore more about measuring “opportunities to listen” while diaries measure what respondents regard as listening. It is an important distinction and will impact on reported results. However, a move to this type of system would see radio measurement equating more closely to the TV People Meter system where respondents don’t have to be actually watching the screen to be recorded as viewers, just in the same room as the TV, giving them an “opportunity to view.”

radioinfo: If the radio industry in this country wants to move to people-meters will you also offer diary surveying in parallel, at least for a time?

Neely: Nielsen Media Research believes that any change to a meter system requires thorough testing in the Australian market. Parallel surveying with the diary system would form part of a rigorous testing regime before adopting it as the currency measurement methodology.

radioinfo: Is this system more expensive than diaries?

Neely: The capital expenditure required to set up the Watch Meter system is substantial. However, the ongoing costs of running the system are far more dependent on the actual survey design. That is, the size of the sample, the number of people in the household sampled etc. If the radio industry were to adopt exactly the same survey design as is currently in place, then a cost increase would be inevitable. In time, as more countries take up the watch meter technology we expect the cost of watches to decrease, which would result in some cost savings.

radioinfo: With this system you could potentially measure how free-to-air radio compares with other audio such as Internet streaming and satellite audio couldn’t you?

Neely: Absolutely. Because the Watch Meter system measures sound we can literally measure any audio. In fact the Watch Meter could measure up to 150 “stations” in each market. “Stations” could be Radio stations, TV stations, Satellite signals, or even Cinema. This would provide a great many opportunities for radio to compare itself to other mediums or possibly even measure cause and effect. Imagine a world where we could identify new listeners to a radio station after they have seen a TV ad for that station the night before. That’s the ultimate measure of advertising effectiveness.

radioinfo: Will meters be able to handle satellite delayed and buffered signals which do not correspond to the real time transmission which you will use to identify stations.

Neely: While the Watch Meter records 4 second sound grabs in each minute, the studio recording takes 10 second grabs, allowing for some margin of delay to be factored in. When the two recordings are matched we would use the middle 4 seconds of the studio recording, to match with watch’s 4 seconds. If a match didn’t initially take place, then the system has the opportunity to search for a match using either side of that first four seconds. Longer delays outside that window would not be provided for.

radioinfo: In your article you mention that the new meters will capture breakfast listening more accurately in that busy period of the day. Will the watch-meter really be able to distinguish a radio signal amidst the morning madness in most households, which includes kids screaming, kettles boiling or many other noises?

Neely: The Watch Meter is set to record what the human ear would (normally) hear. Numerous tests have been conducted regarding the impact of noise interference and the Watch¡¦s ability to accurately match radio broadcasts. Testing on noises such as conversation, heavy rain, running motors, clattering cutlery, plates or glasses, wind & whistles has shown the matching correlation to be extremely high (over 97%) as long as sounds are less than 10 decibels louder than the actual radio broadcast. In any event, very loud noises would interfere with a person’s opportunity to listen and would we really want to measure that anyway?

radioinfo: Does place of listening really matter these days? Why? How will the people-meters measure this?

Neely: That is probably more of a question for the radio industry, but off the top of my head I can think of a number of valid applications for place of listening both in the sales and programming environments. One of the most important factors for programmers is building time spent listening. Understanding where and when people are listening allows them to develop strategies to maximise time spent listening at key times of the day. For sales, it¡¦s also important to know when and where a particular target audience can best be reached and impacted on most often. The Watch Meter allows for measurement of place of listening by respondents pushing a button on the watch and therefore will allow the industry to continue to monitor place of listening if they desire. It might be that only “in home” or “out of home” is recorded but it’s certainly possible and ultimately the industry will decide the degree to which that gets broken out. It’s important to note that the more we ask respondents to do the further we move from a passive audience measurement system so that will impact on the decision making process in this area.

radioinfo: The meters will be able to provide PDs with breakdowns of minute by minute listening. What advantages will there be to programming from this data?

Neely: Minute by minute data will allow programmers to more accurately track switching behaviour. At the moment they can do so to the quarter hour level, but that is clearly nowhere near as accurate as seeing it minute by minute. It also means they can identify actual and possibly higher audiences for short programs such as news or sport. The more precise they can be the more targeted their strategies can also be to encourage listeners to stay with their station for as long as possible.

radioinfo: Will there be pressure from agencies to release more data than has been available in the past if radio meters come into this market?

Neely: The level of data released to agencies would be determined by the radio industry but agencies are always keen to see more detailed data where possible. Doing so would also more closely align the radio industry to television in terms of accountability, something all stakeholders are concerned with. Whether it’s more data in terms of minute by minute or more data in terms of more regular releases is yet another question to be answered before making the transition to any new system.

Radioinfo: Electronic metering of radio listeners may cause Program Directors to rethink some of their programming strategies in the long term. For instance the strategy of saying the Station ID into and out of the break is mostly there to bore the station name into the listeners brain, so that when they fill out a survey book they will remember it. If recall is no longer a factor in measuring the audience it is very likely that this programming strategy will not be so necessary in the future. Do you agree, and what other areas of programming and sales do you think meters will have an effect on?

Neely: Certainly there will be a slightly lesser need to do so for the purposes of influencing respondents but there will still be a need for programmers to identify and attract listeners to their station. Positioning statements and call signs are effectively a radio station’s name and address. Communicating and reminding people of this will always be important. If someone who is a casual listener has tuned in a station needs to remind them who they are and where to find them next time. To keep people coming back – and hopefully increase that all-important TSL – people need to know where to come. It’s also important to remember that because the Australian diary system pre-lists stations, unlike the case overseas, stations in Australia are not currently broadcasting their station ID to the level of annoyance that is common in other parts of the world. Therefore a huge shift from current practices is not as necessary in Australia.

As far as other areas where changes may take place, it’s likely that more attention will be payed to the shorter sessions in the day and understanding exactly what impact they are having and when people are switching. We could basically expect that no time, session or segments will go unscrutinised. One area of particular interest might be to gain a better understanding of the importance of lead-in programs similar to that of television. For example, it’s possible that when people switch to listen to a specific program such as news or traffic they are in fact doing so earlier than currently thought. Under the current system the minimum measure possible for tracking audience movement is from one quarter hour to another. Minute by minute data will make understanding this type of issue so much more accurate and relevant.



The Movement to Meters for Radio

by Mark Neely, Client Director, Nielsen Media Research Australia

A steadily increasing number of radio stations and the proliferation of consumers’ media choices has been driving the need to move away from the current accepted and successful diary system for some time now. The paper and pencil diary work well, but with new radio licences coming on stream, new radio technology on the horizon, and increasingly time-poor respondents, a truly passive measurement system is important for the future of radio measurement.

Nielsen Media Research Australia believes that while the eventual transition to
metering radio listening is inevitable, care must be taken to ensure that the chosen
system captures all listening to all stations, on all occasions, at all locations and
during all respondent activities. Collection of data is also required, not just for part of
each day, but for all twenty-four hours.

Clearly, the prime-time breakfast period is particularly important, with listening
occurring over a wide variety of activities, ranging from lying in bed to getting up,
washing, dressing, preparing meals, eating, getting ready for the day and driving to
work or elsewhere. If any period of listening throughout the day cannot be measured
because of limitations of the data collection device, radio will suffer. This holds
especially true of the breakfast period.

The least intrusive device provides the most accurate measurement

The ideal device for recording all individual listening should take the form of an item
normally worn in daily life rather than an item not normally carried or worn. In this
regard, the Swiss-developed “Watch Meter” which functions both as a working watch and a “data collection vehicle,” is the obvious choice.

The Swiss system has other major advantages.

* Stations don’t need to insert any form of identifying code in their transmissions,
allowing for automatic monitoring of all stations. This is particularly important in
markets where some stations may not be prepared to participate in surveys. If a
survey system requiring coding was adopted and not all stations participated, the
service could only reflect listening to coded stations rather than all stations.

* The Watch Meter records regular four-second sound “grabs” from the stations to which each respondent is exposed. These are later matched with recordings of
all stations in each market. It has been determined that, with weekly release of
survey data, up to 150 stations could be monitored in each market.

* The Watch Meter offers minimal respondent burden. The only obligation placed
on respondents is that they wear the watch for a period of no more than seven
days. They are not required to participate in a semi-permanent panel or in daily
download of the data. It is the most “passive” of any media monitoring system, including today’s TV People Meters.

* Additionally, the Watch Meter allows the wearer to indicate where they are
listening to radio by pushing a button on the watch,. This will allow the industry to
continue to monitor “In Home” and “Out of Home” listening.

For these and other reasons, Nielsen Media Research recommends this system of
electronic audience measurement for Australian radio.

The introduction of meters will result in some changes in the resulting data. This has
been demonstrated in the Swiss situation where the Watch Meter produces the
currency, and in UK tests.

Short listening occasions will be more accurately reported than they are currently.
Radio’s reported reach will increase. In Switzerland the average daily reach has
increased from 71.5% to 91.5%, and in the UK the weekly reach has increased from
93% to 98.2%.

Currently, the diary keeper records his or her actual listening, whereas the Watch
Meter system will measure the “exposure” of the respondent to the radio stations,
thus changing the basis of the measurement to “an opportunity to listen.” This
equates to the current TV People Meter system where respondents don’t have to be
actually watching the screen to be recorded as viewers, rather, they merely need to
be in the same room as the operating TV set, giving them an “opportunity to view.”

Watch Meter data currently being collected overseas indicates that while reach has
increased, time spent listening has decreased when compared to the diary
methodology. This is because the diary tends to overstate TSL as it records listening
to a station for eight minutes or more as a fifteen minute block, whereas the Watch
Meter records listening on a minute by minute basis.

Improved analysis of programming for radio stations

This possible disadvantage can be turned in to a marketing opportunity. Presently,
programmes or items of less than 15 minutes duration cannot be individually and
accurately reported by diaries. The minute by minute data will allow radio marketers
to identify actual and possibly higher audiences for these short programmes, such as
news, promotional segments and sports items. Minute by minute data will also show
movement of audience to and from day parts, personality shifts and sports
descriptions – an advantage for both programmers and marketers.

A further advantage is that all exposure to radio whether in home or out of home will
be tracked by the Watch Meter, with potential increases in radio listening occurring
especially on weekends and among younger, more mobile listeners.

It is unlikely that radio programmers will be required to make major changes to their
current processes. It will still be necessary to constantly identify the station, not in
some vain attempt to “influence” diary keepers but in the normal course of converting
casual listeners to heavier listeners. Minute by minute data will reveal listening
patterns not recognised by the diary system, offering new insights into how the
audience uses radio.

The format in which the data is released to agencies and clients would still be
determined by the radio industry. While minute by minute data could be extracted,
the industry may well decide to maintain the current quarter hour reporting. However,
the ability to offer different reports would be substantially increased. It would be
perfectly possible for the industry to measure cross-media exposure (Radio/TV) if

Electronic measurement of radio will need to be considered as respondents become
increasingly time-poor, gain greater opportunities for station selection, and as radio
listening expands beyond the traditional radio receiver. Switching to electronic
measurement from the current diary system naturally has cost and other
implications, some of which have been covered in this review. It is therefore vital to
thoroughly investigate the options using not only overseas experience, but through
proper testing in the Australian environment.

More information from Mark Neely or Dita Sharples at ACNielsen Sydney, 02 8873 7000 or email [email protected]

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