New data from Nielsen’s PPM markets shows upward momentum for radio listening following depressed levels during the April survey, when fewer Americans were out and about due to shelter-in-place orders. As of Week 2 of the in-progress May survey, total week listening is at 82% of its pre-COVID level and up 22% from April’s low.
During a series of client webinars on Friday, Nielsen execs reviewed key listening data points from 80,000 meters in the 45 PPM markets. The numbers clearly show how the stay-at-home orders had a more pronounced impact on listening behaviors in the April survey, which covers March 26-April 22.
Indexing un-weighted preliminary Average Quarter Hours by week, Nielsen showed how stay-at-home mandates impacted listening levels. Starting with March Week 2 as the pre-COVID baseline, Nielsen indexed listening through the second week of May. The weekly numbers show a listening decline began in March Week 3 (indexing at 88), before a sharp decline to 70 in March Week 4. Listening remained down throughout April, indexing at 67 for Weeks 1, 2 and 3 of the PPM survey before beginning to rebound in April Week 4 to 72. The recovery continued in May Week 1 (76) before hitting 82 in Week 2.
Even more encouraging is how listening has rebounded on weekends, as more people are out and about in their cars, where most listening takes place. As of May Week 2, weekend listening is at 94% of its pre-COVID level and up 34% from April’s low.
While weekend listening was higher than total week throughout the pandemic, the biggest gap between the two dayparts is happening now with weekends showing a 12-point higher index than total week.
Middays has been one of the strongest dayparts during the COVID disruption as Americans slept in later and many radio stations responded by extending their morning shows by an extra hour. The latest data shows midday listening in now at 87% of its pre-pandemic level and up 18% from April’s low.
“Radio’s been a historically reliable wind gauge, acting as an early economic indicator for the pacing of business and commerce,” Nielsen Audio Managing Director Brad Kelly told Inside Radio. “We’re hopeful that this upturn in audience levels suggests a ray of sunlight breaking through the cloud-covered U.S. economy.”
Breaking out the data by individual markets shows how listening behavior differed in pandemic hots spots than in regions that weren’t as harshly affected. For this exercise Nielsen compared unweighted preliminary QHRS for Wednesday May 6 with Wednesday March 11. As of May 6, markets in California and the Northeast are indexing in the 60s while less affected metros in the South and Midwest are in the 90s. Twenty of the 45 PPM markets have returned to 80% or greater pre-COVID listening levels by May 6.
The latest data shows cume figures are less impacted by COVID disruptions than AQH. In April, radio retained 86% of its weekly reach compared to March. (March was a little off to begin with, with cume indexing at 96% compared to February.) The brunt was felt harder in AQH, the metric that combines cume (how many) with time spent (how long). Radio retained 72% of its AQH in April compared to March, which was at 90% compared to its February audience delivery.
As with the March survey, the majority of AM/FM radio time spent listening continued to occur out of home, but by a smaller percentage. In March 71% of listening was out of home and 29% in home. By April the split was 58% out of home and 42% in home. Here again there are differences based on the severity of the health crisis. Hot spots like New York, Seattle and Boston show lower than average percentages of out of home listening.
Nielsen also analyzed encoded streams of AM/FM radio stations and found that at-home online listening was 60% higher in April Week 4 compared to before the virus outbreak among persons 18+ during the Mon.-Fri., 6am-7pm daypart.