Nielsen375

A great deal of the focus on radio listening levels during the COVID-19 pandemic has centered on Nielsen data from the 48 PPM markets which represent radio’s largest metros. But what about the medium and small markets, where much of America resides? A new analysis of audience data from Nielsen’s 44 continuously measured diary markets shows virtually no impact on listening levels during the month of April, when Americans significantly restricted their movements and sheltered at home.

Nielsen looked at unweighted quarter hours by month across all 44 of its continuously measured diary markets in April and compared them to the pre-COVID-19 February survey. It found that AM/FM radio retained 97% of prior listening volumes in these markets. Put another way, there was only a 3% reduction in 12+ listening from 1.45 million quarter hours in February to 1.41 million in April.

Nielsen presented the data in a series of client webinars Friday, marking the first report of listening in markets ranked 50 to 100 reflecting the impact of COVID-19.

“It makes sense given that these markets didn’t have as much shelter-at-home mandates and traffic volumes didn’t dip as much as the larger markets that are measured by PPM,” Pierre Bouvard, Chief Insights Officer at Cumulus Media/Westwood One, told Inside Radio. “When you look at location of listening, you see a shift of less in-car and more at-home listening,”

Combining the just-released April diary data with recent May PPM audiences to form a national perspective, “American AM/FM radio has retained 93% of pre-COVID-19 reach levels and 86% of pre-COVID-19 average quarter-hour audiences,” Bouvard said in a new post on the Everyone’s Listening blog.

Bouvard says the new findings “dispel the current myth heard from New York City-based media planners and strategists that ‘No one is driving now, so no one is listening to AM/FM radio.’”

A more realistic picture of how much time people are spending on the road can be found in data from Geopath, the audience measurement service for the American outdoor advertising industry. It tracks consumer movement data from millions of cell phones to produce miles-traveled data for every market in America. Comparing the total weekly miles travelled, from May 11-May 17 2020 to the same week in 2019, shows the smaller the market size the larger the year-over-year increases in miles traveled. In the top 10 markets, miles travelled were down 29% year over year and -21% for markets 11-25. Traffic volumes match or exceed the prior year in markets outside the top 25. Markets 26-50 (-7%) and 51-100 (-2%) had only single digit declines. And markets 100-150 showed a 10% year-over-year increase, +16% for markets 151+.

Geopath data shows a significant drop in miles traveled in late March and early April. Since then, traffic volumes have recovered significantly, especially in markets ranked 26+.