A bizarre story broke last week involving a number of radio’s favorite topics: PPM, streaming, and Amazon Echo. It was covered by many of the major trades, and it called into question the efficacy of metered measurement in Tampa. The AllAccess story is here.
Like the Russian and wiretapping scandals wafting their way through Washington, the Tampa January PPM story would still be in the trades if not for Nielsen stepping up and putting out the fire. Yet, there are several important aspects to this tale that combine truth and speculation. So, what’s the real truth and what part falls under the popular heading of “fake news?”
What we know:
Beasley’s WYUU stream (92.5 Maxima), a Spanish Contemporary station, popped a #1 18-34 ranking in the Tampa January PPM survey.
Previously, the station’s stream had not shown up in months.
Other Tampa broadcasters were reportedly up in arms, demanding that Nielsen disqualify the two meters in question – both young Hispanic respondents.
Based largely on a provocative blog post from Randy Kabrich (this is what he does), the rumble was that this Tampa area household must have received an Amazon Echo device for Christmas – a plausible explanation for hours and hours of streaming usage.
The likely truth:
The idea that “Alexa” drove this listening is right out of Randy’s imagination, but it’s a fascinating stab in the dark. It’s possible, of course, that one of these devices was involved, but it’s doubtful because only a small percentage of homes even have an Amazon Echo (or Google Home) voice command device.
The greater likelihood is that this household streamed the station on a mobile device, perhaps hooked up to Bluetooth speakers. Our Techsurveys have long shown that Hispanics are more likely to have a smartphone than a desktop computer, much less an Echo. And our most recent study confirmed that more than any other ethnic group, Hispanics are least likely to have a working radio at home.
Broadcasters who have convinced themselves that no one streams – especially this much – are deluding themselves, especially when it comes to Millennials. We are in the process of conducting one-on-one interviews for clients on both public and commercial stations. And we’re running into young respondents just like these two meter holders in Tampa. They may not have a working AM/FM radio at home (or it’s not in a convenient place). And when they find a radio station they love, they’ll listen to its stream, often for long periods of time.
Techsurvey12 revealed Hispanics are the most likely group to use streaming audio/radio on a daily basis. In fact, nearly half (49%) say they engage in streaming audio every day. So a couple of Hispanics in Tampa doing a lot of streaming is actually not a big news story.
The fact that Nielsen actually captured and credited this streaming activity is the story, and it suggests the two meter holders probably weren’t listening on headphones or earbuds. Chances are strong, the meters picked up audio emanating from speakers.
Streaming numbers in Nielsen would be considerably higher than we see in weekly and monthly reports if Nielsen had a headphone solution and if broadcasters aggressively promoted their streams. Most programmers are fearful that streaming listening won’t be properly credited, thus detracting from their broadcast ratings. Therefore, they rarely promote it. In this case, Nielsen was able to credit the streaming, and you can see the results in the January Tampa monthly.
Nielsen did not disqualify the household in question – nor should they have. As the company reported, the panelists that Kabrich wrote about “met our compliance standards.”
Randy’s point that just a meter or two can swing the rankings of an entire report is sadly accurate, a point we made here a couple weeks back in a post “celebrating” the 10th birthday of the PPM methodology (“PPM Turns 10 – Celebration Or Regret?”). Unfortunately, this is the ratings universe in which we’re mired. And these apparent anomalies will continue to occur, and would happen more often if headphone measurement was being accurately measured by the meters.
A few suggestions and action steps
Speculation in these situations can be dangerous. It is easy to grab onto a theory and watch it rapidly become an accepted truth.
“Fake news” happens in radio, too. Randy was only theorizing about the Amazon Echo, but it quickly became a near fact because it’s a cool story about a hot technology that many in radio were already thinking about. Later the day the story broke in the trades, I had a number of clients remark to me about the “Alexa Effect” because of that household in Tampa.
And the insinuation these two meter holders turned on the stream and perhaps walked away or left the house is scurrilous, too. There are, in fact, people who stream all day (and listen to the radio all day), while they work or when they hang around their house or apartment. Broadcasters should be gratified it has loyal listeners who continue to enjoy the companionship and entertainment value from their stations, whether it’s the terrestrial signal or the stream.
There are still too many “stream deniers” in the radio industry. Whether we like it or not, whether we promote it or not, and whether Nielsen properly credits it or not, people are streaming – Pandora, TuneIn, Spotify, YouTube, and yes, our radio stations. In this rapidly changing tech environment, radio should feel fortunate there’s a streaming solution making it possible for consumers to listener to our stations, whether they have access to a working radio or not.
Just because “no one’s making any money from streaming” doesn’t mean millions of consumers aren’t engaging in the activity. Big time.
Radio needs to do its homework – and that means audience research that measures more than format lanes, image statements, and desirable contest prizes. Studies like Alan Burns/Strategic Solutions’ recent “What Women Want” and the upcoming Edison/Triton “Infinite Dial” are available to anyone in radio who takes the time to read and absorb them. Radio, as an industry, is woefully under-researched, especially compared to the other media verticals with which it competes.
We just closed out Techsurvey13 – more than 350 stakeholder stations took part this year, generating more than 51,000 completed interviews. In just a few short weeks, we’ll have extensive data, across formats, generations, ethnicities, and geographies, that will illuminate these issues: headphone listening, Amazon Echo ownership, and heavy streaming radio usage. Stay tuned.
We should continue to keep the pressure on Nielsen to solve the headphone problem. It would most assuredly add more streaming listening to many stations’ ratings totals.
And finally (and this one won’t be popular), Nielsen should stop disseminating information about individual meter holders – who they are and where they live – because this information continues to create incendiary moments like this one, while eroding the credibility of their ratings reports. By continuing to allow broadcasters and ratings analysts into their “sausage factory,” it’s no surprise there are ugly, horrific, and illogical ratings impacts that we cannot “unsee.”
This is just another chapter in the ongoing saga of PPM. But it runs deeper than that. It is about measurement problems, and it is also about the changing ways in which audiences are accessing radio stations and audio entertainment.
We need more research and better measurement in order to understand our changing world.
And to discriminate what is, in fact, “fake news.”
Postscript: A week after this post was published, Nielsen announced it has removed the two respondents in questions from its panel, as well as the entire household, for compliance reasons. You can read the story in more detail from Radio Ink here.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
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Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.