NAB Big Data

Radio put Nielsen on the hot seat Tuesday as a panel of research execs grilled the ratings giant about what it’s doing to improve audience measurement in a world where big data is becoming more essential in deciding how trillions of dollars are spent. Beasley Media Group, Cumulus Media and iHeartMedia honchos were part of a three-part, 90-minute data-palooza panel that pressured Nielsen to move faster on everything from updating its ratings meters to replacing the “Ozzie & Harriet”-era paper and pencil diaries still used in hundreds of markets.

The NAB Show session “What's the Big Data Deal for Radio” took the gloves off and revealed the tension that exists between broadcasters and Nielsen on a host of measurement issues. After two decades of working in media and market research for digital and print companies, iHeart executive VP of Insights, Research and Data Analytics Michele Madansky said she was surprised that radio is still measured in scores of markets with diaries and that Nielsen’s sample sizes are so small.

Regardless of how the company may enhance its methodologies with data from other sources, Nielsen VP of Product Leadership Rob Kass said representative PPM panels and ratings diaries will remain “core” to its methodology as a “source of truth” to offset the bias inherent in big data. “We’re cautiously looking at ways we can bring in new sources of data,” he said, leveraging knowledge the measurement company has gained from enhancing TV ratings with big data from set top boxes. And Nielsen senior VP of Product Leadership Gerardo Guzman pointed to the fact that it took seven years to integrate set-top box data into TV ratings. “It’s really hard work and you need to take your time,” he insisted.

But in an audio world of smart speakers and connected cars, where what worked last year may be obsolete today, broadcasters appear to be growing impatient. “We’re hoping it moves faster,” Madansky said of Nielsen’s attempts to launch a long overdue currency-based streaming audio measurement service.

Nielsen may be sitting on a treasure trove of big data, following its acquisition of Gracenote, according to Dr. Ed Cohen, VP of Ratings and Research for Cumulus Media. “That may be the set-top box for big data in radio,” said Cohen, a former Arbitron executive. Gracenote’s audio content recognition technology is now integrated into 110 million connected car infotainment systems. In a promising sign, Kass said Nielsen engineers have been working to tweak Gracenote technology so that it can detect the PPM watermarks that form the backbone of audio measurement in radio’s 48 largest markets. Nielsen is also having conversations with automakers about what data they have that Nielsen might utilize while still protecting consumer privacy. But Kass said auto data comes with a lot of bias, meaning it isn’t truly representative of the population, while he pointed out that there are also technical hurdles to overcome.

Measuring Smart Speaker Listening

And then there are smart speakers. As the red-hot technology opens up new opportunities for radio listening in the home, Nielsen is challenged to measure it. While the PPM does track smart speaker listening if the station has encoded its stream, smart speaker listening is one of Nielsen’s SDK-based digital audio measurement “blind spots,” along with Bluetooth-enabled wireless headphone listening. To complete the puzzle, Kass said the company is looking at integrating server log metrics into a hybrid approach to big data – done in conjunction with a ratings panel. But it needs to be executed in such a way that “maintains the integrity of the data for buyers and sellers,” Kass said.

Later in the session, Madansky chastised Nielsen for using a PPM device that “looks like a 1970s pager,” while the industry anxiously awaits the rollout of new wearable meters in 2020. And in the 200+ diary markets, Madansky questioned why Nielsen wouldn’t deploy “an app, a website, anything to just make it easy for people” to enter what they’re listening to. “I can’t believe you wouldn’t improve the sample by including some other methodologies,” she said. Kass explained that it took time to miniaturize the PPM into a wearable that can collect and transmit listening data back to Nielsen and noted that the company is in the midst of its second PPM sample size increase since acquiring Arbitron. “We need to enhance what we’re doing today,” he said. “Waiting until 2020 when we have a new meter isn’t enough.”

But while quality is important in today’s media world marked by a “tailspin of data,” Stacey Lynn Schulman, executive VP of Strategy and Analytics for Katz Media Group, urged Nielsen to step on the gas. “The marketplace is moving so fast and we’re so focused on measuring it. Yet it seems that we’ve lost sight of the fact that the consumers are way out ahead of us.”