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Ad Agencies Still Getting Arms Around Nielsen’s ‘Subscriber First Policy.’

As first reported by Inside Radio, Nielsen will no longer include the ratings for non-subscribing radio stations in the summary dataset that fuels the major buying systems used by agencies and advertisers. The new policy goes into effect in 2021 and ad agencies are still figuring out how to deal with not having a view of the total market when placing ad buys.

“We are in the process of addressing it,” Kathy Doyle, Executive VP of Local Investment at Magna said last week. Doyle said she examined Magna’s spending history and found there weren’t that many nonsubscribers it was buying on behalf of its clients, especially in PPM markets.

“Depending on the client’s business and needs, we are either recommending to clients that we just don’t buy those stations” or use TAPSCAN data to buy them outside of the system, Doyle said during “What Agencies Want From Their Media Partners,” a live-streamed session presented by the Radio Advertising Bureau. But having to buy them outside the buying system at a time when agencies want to automate tasks to make buying easier isn’t appealing to Magna, the media research and intelligence division of IPG Mediabrands. “That is not ideal in a world where we are on the forefront of automation in all things and trying to bring efficiency and removing low value work from our work streams to make local a more palatable option for our clients,” said Doyle, who oversees local activity for clients such as Amazon, American Express, Academy Sports, BMW, Coca-Cola, Subaru and Arby’s, among others. She likened the new policy to “taking a step backwards.”

While not a fan of having to buy some stations manually, Doyle said her clients’ needs come first. “If there is a station that is a non-subscriber that is a must buy, we will figure out a way to do it,” she offered. And for diary markets that have few subscribers, Doyle said her shop can switch to buying on cost per spot instead of cost per point. In fact, the agency is already doing that in some cases.

‘A Backwards Step’

Another agency exec, who spoke to Inside Radio on condition of anonymity, also equated the new subscriber-only policy change to a backwards step. “I understand both positions in terms of the cost involved and that ratings aren’t typically used as much in local markets to sell to local advertisers,” this person said. “But if I’m putting a buy together, having comparable data across markets is sort of essential. If you’re doing a market buy, some people just get left off. When you’re analyzing 20 markets and looking for an-apples-to apples comparison in the market, if you can only get a certain amount of it, are you going to naturally skew to putting the money where you know you’re getting the standard research that you’ve always got.”

This exec said the end result might be that buyers invest more money with bigger stations at the expense of smaller ones that don’t subscribe. “That’s not a good thing for the industry at large, when there are very effective local smaller owned and operated broadcasters.”

The other change that Nielsen is making, which has drawn less attention, is reported estimates for non-subscribing minority-owned stations and non-profit stations will no longer be limited to those meeting a listening threshold. Starting with the January 2021 PPM monthly report, Black-, Hispanic-, and female-owned stations and non-profits with annual revenue less than $7 million per market at the cluster level will be reported in the summary level datasets if they have one or more mentions in the metro. Currently they have to have a 0.1+ AQH Rating, Mon-Sun., 6am-midnight. The new policy will allow more minority-owned and nonprofit stations to show up in the summary level dataset. “That actually might help on that front,” said Doyle. “That might be a good thing for all of us.”

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