Nielsen last week released its May 2020 PPM “Additional Panel Characteristics” and the data includes some eye-opening stats about the people who determine the ratings success or failure of scores of radio stations. After analyzing the data, Hubbard Radio VP of Market Research Mike Bustell says he has concerns about the makeup of the panel when it comes to their media habits and how they compare to those of participants in Nielsen’s Scarborough qualitative service.

“The characteristics of Nielsen’s PPM panel seem to be drifting hard into a world of panelist households who are more than twice as likely to be audio and video streaming service users than Nielsen’s 2020 Release 1 of Scarborough reflects,” Bustell says. For example, the Scarborough data shows 22.9% of adults using Pandora every week. But that percentage leaps to 64.2% among May 2020 PPM panelist households aged 35-54. Similarly, Scarborough shows 21.2% of adults using Spotify every week yet the percentage is more than twice as large  (49.6%) among May 2020 PPM panelists aged 35-54.

“Imagine having to sell radio in Salt Lake City where 76.2% of PPM panelist households say they have a radio, 67.4% say their household uses Pandora, and 60.2% say they use Spotify,” Bustell says.

Other research, such as Jacobs Media’s Techsurvey, has documented the growing number of households without a functioning AM/FM receiver, especially those with younger residents. But by Bustell's reading of the new Nielsen PPM panelist data, only 73.4% of May 2020 panelist households aged 35-54 claimed to own one or more radios. The numbers vary greatly from market to market.  In Minneapolis-St. Paul, for instance, 83.7% of adult households in the 35-54 demo own a radio but the portion slips to 63.9% in San Diego. 

As a longtime subscriber to Edison Research’s “Share of Ear” surveys, Bustell says he grasps the notion that “local radio is getting squeezed within the audio space every quarter.” But he’s a bit incredulous that Nielsen’s PPM panel composition in May shows 75.9% of Charlotte’s and 73% of Raleigh-Durham’s age 35-54 household panelists are Pandora users.  “Those percentages are scary-close to the 78.5% of Charlotte adult 35-54 panelist households with a radio.”

Bustell says that if he were a market manager, he’d be buying ads on Pandora and Spotify inviting listeners to listen to his station. “I’d tell listeners every single break how to listen to my station on a smart speaker because 44.7% of Nielsen’s age 35-54 panelist households have one.” By comparison, Scarborough 2020 claims just 25% smart speaker penetration.

“I’d put a permanent round sticker with my station logo on 1,000 Amazon Echos and give one away every hour,” he says.

Following the publication of this story, Mike Bustell sent the following email to Inside Radio:

“Upon further review and following a call with Nielsen, I have been made aware there are a number of potentially misleading inferences derived from my data points in the information that I sent to you last week for the article that ran in Inside Radio. 

“I was incorrectly comparing Scarborough persons to PPM households.  This approach created an unreliable comparison of two distinct sets of data which led to some inaccurate assumptions on my part.  Although what I sent you clarified the “households” aspect of the PPM Panel Characteristics regarding Households with a Radio, using Pandora, using Spotify, having a Smart Speaker, I found that more was to be learned from Nielsen’s actual Tri-Annual PPM Panel Characteristics wording in their actual survey.

“For instance, “Number of Radios” Persons in Household in the spreadsheet Nielsen sent out.  I was unaware until my conversation with Nielsen this morning that this figure did NOT include car radios when an average of 26.6% of Age 35-54 PPM panelists reported “0” Radios.  75.9% of Charlotte Age 35-54 Panelists with Pandora or Spotify users in their Household could have recalled using these streaming services “at any time” not just in the past 30 days or past 7 days.  It could have been one person in their 5 person household recalling listening to Pandora once in the past year according to Nielsen.

“I apologize for creating any undue confusion with your readers.”