July 24, 2015
It was a mystery to me the other day after the Nielsen Voltair webinar when I found myself... you know, I'm not sure how to put this. I was going to say "disinterested," but that's not accurate; I'm very interested. "Frustrated" wasn't it, either. It was more a sense of suspended animation, or detachment, or maybe ennui. It felt like even though all of this matters, it's all just a bump in a very long road. There's so much more in play that when I figuratively stepped back and looked at -- cliché alert -- the Big Picture, it seemed like just a skirmish, early in a long battle. But the battle won't be Nielsen vs. Clients, or PPM vs. Voltair. And "battle" isn't really quite the metaphor for which I'm looking.
What the hell am I talking about? Good question. What I'm trying, and failing, to say is that the measurement issues are secondary, in my mind, to the need to settle on exactly what we're supposed to be measuring. And by THAT, I mean both the content side (radio, podcasting, streaming) and the buying side (specifically, agencies) need to get their priorities straight and come to an agreement on what everyone wants.
Let me illustrate. What has the radio industry been trotting out in the past several months as proof of its relevancy to advertisers? Reach. We reach 94% of Americans, or 91%, or some percentage like that. More reach than other media. Reach, reach, reach. Meanwhile, you hear advertisers want engagement and are willing to pay much higher CPMs for it, which explains why top podcasts get the rates they do, regardless of reach -- a live read and/or endorsement by a host with a loyal audience in any medium is of greater value than a typical pre-recorded spot. But, conversely, podcast sales reps are talking endlessly about going after more brand advertising instead of the direct response ads that still dominate their medium, and brand advertisers want... reach. Live reads and native advertising are good, but for brands not including a call to action ("use the promo code"), reach is the goal. While it's possible to offer both reach and engagement, there's no one measurement covering both. I don't even know what that would look like. But it's all still being figured out. Oh, and then, there's programmatic, which is purely a numbers game; engagement, for someone letting the computer's virtual fingers do the walking, is an accidental by-product. And, of course, if you're in a smaller market that's still diary-measured, or unrated, you may still be using the old-fashioned wear-out-your-soles personal-relationship community sale, even as Internet-based competitors are trying to take a chunk out of you doing the exact same thing.
Well, then. Your old-school ratings, PPM or diary, don't reflect effectiveness or engagement, and have technical and sample limitations. Engagement measures -- clicks and sales -- may undersell the true value of the medium in the long run, and aren't necessarily what brand advertisers want to see. Programmatic may or may not be the future of ad buying. We're not in the old days, and the new days are still unsettled.
We're in between.
Which is why I couldn't work up a lather about the Voltair spat. If I was programming a station in a PPM market today, I'd want every ratings advantage I could get, not because it would reflect the true listening OR effectiveness of my station but because you get fired if your ratings aren't high and every point counts. It's understandable that Nielsen wouldn't be happy about Voltair, because it does shine a light on the PPM's flaws, but, then again, we don't know, ultimately, if pure reach figures like AQH and cume are going to be what sells advertising five or ten years from now, or we're going to have to come up with some other measure of whether an ad on a radio show or in a podcast really works. However it works out, someone will always try to game the system, the system will always have a flaw to be gamed, and when that flaw is fixed, we'll all move on and debate another flaw.
Oh, and one other thing. Programmers, PLEASE don't use the PPM/Voltair thing as an excuse for your sagging ratings. I've heard hosts and programmers mired in long declines blaming the meters for their troubles, and suggest that their numbers are being seriously underreported. Yet some spoken word stations do fine with the same technology and the same limitations. Don't look at Voltair, or Nielsen's upcoming "enhancements," as the Magic Bullet to save your station. You may pick up a little, but I wouldn't count on total vindication. You still need to make your programming better, meter or not.
Unless, of course, you're doing Smooth Jazz, in which case, you're doomed. Or so I'm told.
One thing with which neither Voltair or Nielsen will be able to help you is your content. For that, there's All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes, available now by clicking here. And there's the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Meanwhile, for a look at someone who's thinking about radio in a forward-looking, new-media-centric manner, read "10 Questions With..." WOWO/Fort Wayne PD Ryan Wrecker, who tells us about taking a heritage News-Talk brand into the 21st century.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
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