The move to continuous measurement in diary markets has been nearly universally lauded by Nielsen clients in just about every way – except for the price increase. Nielsen’s customers say the measurement giant is seeking rate hikes in the range of 5%-12% for the upgrade to monthly ratings and that the additional fee wasn’t communicated to them until late in the game.

Nielsen’s changeover to continuous audience measurement in diary markets is set to begin in July. Subscribers say the switch to monthly ratings reports will afford a quicker read on format flips and other market changes and give radio more credibility with advertisers amid a fast-changing media landscape where fresh data is of paramount importance. But multiple clients told Inside Radio they were broadsided by the price increase and that it wasn’t disclosed early enough in the process. Some say they won’t upgrade to the enhanced service, choosing instead to stick with the existing cadence of quarterly or twice a year ratings reports.

When initially presented, the concept of 12 currency-grade reports a year, based on a rolling sample, was almost universally met with approval. But during those early discussions there wasn’t any talk of increased fees for clients, sources say. “If a potential double-digit increase in Nielsen license fees was included in the discussion, it would have been met with a very different reaction from broadcasters,” says one source with knowledge of the matter.

When talk about continuous measurement began years ago, members of a diary subcommittee of the Nielsen Audio Advisory Council made a stipulation that small market broadcasters couldn’t afford to shoulder a price increase, according to this source. The assumption was there wouldn’t be an increase. It wasn’t until November 2018 that Nielsen first informed Advisory Council members about a fee increase during a teleconference, without disclosing the size of the hike. The company began to discuss rate hikes with broadcasters individually around this time, according to another source.

“It’s quite a mess,” said one Nielsen diary market client, who spoke off the record. “There was an expectation and core belief that a price increase was not included” in the move to continuous measurement because Nielsen isn’t adding any additional sample but merely spreading existing sample across 12 monthly ratings reports.

Small market broadcasters can ill afford an increase in the range of 5% to 12% for one of their largest line item expenses, sources tell Inside Radio. They point out that Nielsen is using the same data collection instrument and the same amount of sample. The higher range of the increase is believed to apply only to clients in markets currently measured four times a year that previously elected to receive two books a year. The steeper price would cover transitioning from two books per year to 12.

Nielsen: ‘Optional Paid-Service Enhancement’

Inside Radio first reported on the increase March 21, in the context of a story based on a webinar with clients where Nielsen officials noted that changing to continuous measurement is optional – not mandatory – and would involve an additional fee for clients who opt in. “There is a cost if you want to subscribe because the effort we’re placing in this particular case and the amount of work is pretty substantial,” Nielsen Audio VP of Local Product Leadership Bill Rose explained during the March 20 webinar.

A Nielsen spokesperson said the company doesn’t comment on rate discussions with clients. “CDM is an optional paid-service enhancement, as publicly disclosed at a variety of industry meetings, client webinars, and as recently reported by the media,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Monthly data delivery is an opt-in service. Clients can choose to maintain the status quo and continue to receive quarterly or semi-annual reports delivery with no impact to license fee.”

Comparing the issue to a “tempest in a teapot,” Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw, who currently chairs the Nielsen Audio Advisory Council, points out that the upgrade is completely optional. “There are lots of products or services that we choose to take or not to take, depending on whether they are a good financial proposition for our companies,” he said. “For the potential price increase, the benefit is such that if my company couldn’t monetize it, shame on me for not being able to do a better job for my clients as a result of having continuous measurement. It’s a benefit if it's adopted, and a loss if it’s not.”

In addition to the price increase itself, some worry that their ratings currency would be devalued if they refuse to pay for the upgrade. The data they receive would be different from what agencies and competitors that opt in have access to, they say, putting them at a competitive disadvantage to deeper-pocketed broadcasters that can afford the service. “Now you’ve got agencies making buys on data you can’t see,” said one source. “That’s not good for the industry.” What’s more there would be two different ratings currencies used in some markets. “Monthly currency is a good idea,” says one subscriber. “It needs to be one currency and it should be a product improvement that isn’t funded by subscribers.”

Said another source, “Nielsen has taken a second tier ratings service and in elevating its status, created a third tier service” for those unwilling to pay for the upgrade.

The issue is likely to be a hot topic when the Nielsen Audio Advisory Council has its regularly scheduled meeting in Tampa this week.

Warshaw, who is credited with playing a major role in convincing Nielsen to make the change to continuous measurement in diary markets, sees it as a take it or leave it proposition. “If the industry wants it, they’re going to have to pay for it. I don’t believe that Nielsen is going to give it away for free because it has real costs attached to it.”