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Non-Subscribers To Vanish From Ad Buying Systems Under New Nielsen Policy.

In a major change with far-reaching implications for radio, advertisers and agencies, Nielsen will no longer include listening data for non-subscribing stations in the summary dataset that fuels the major buying systems used by agencies and advertisers. Dubbed “Subscriber First,” the policy change goes into effect in January 2021 for PPM markets and April 2021 for diary markets.

It’s the latest in a series of steps the company has taken in recent years to remove benefits for non-subscribers in an effort to bring them back into the fold. That began around 2014 when the company stopped including ratings of non-subscribers in the “topline” numbers it provides to Inside Radio and other trade publications.

While non-subscribers won’t be included in Strata and the other major buying platforms – making them invisible to the majority of ad agencies – Nielsen says it will continue to include their numbers in respondent level data, the granular data that Nielsen says “almost all” of its broadcast customers subscribe to. That means subscribing stations will still have the ability to monitor how their non-subscribing competitors are performing.

Although many of Nielsen’s larger full-service agency customers get respondent level data, the majority do not. And even for agencies with access to respondent level data, listening for non-subscribers won’t flow into the buying systems. “We are changing that dynamic of the seamless integration of non-subscribers’ data into the transactional process,” Nielsen Audio Managing Director Brad Kelly told Inside Radio.

“There is a fundamental belief at Nielsen that subscribers, people that are paying for the measurement of the industry, should differentially benefit from that research,” Kelly continued. “We have had a free rider problem for a while – non-subscribers who have dramatically benefitted from measurement although they don’t support it.”

Carve-Out For Minorities And Non-Comms

The company has made an exception to the policy for minority- and female-owned broadcasters and non-commercial broadcasters. Broadcast companies that are Black-, Hispanic-, Asian- or female-owned or are a 501-C3 will continue to show up in the data, regardless of subscriber status.

Nielsen says it comes down to an issue of fairness and economics. The company continues to invest in methodological upgrades such as passive PPM monitoring capabilities, a new PPM software encoder and other hard costs, while making ongoing investments to keep key sample performance indicators high throughout the COVID crisis.

To continue to invest in its measurement products at a time when subscribers can ill afford rate hikes, the company says it is left with only two levers to pull: reduce costs by measuring fewer markets, something it did earlier this year by closing down 8 or 9 diary markets. Kelly calls that “the least desirable approach” since “it doesn’t benefit anybody.” The other lever it can pull is to grow revenue, which it hopes to do by convincing non-subscribers to return to the fold.

“This will encourage non-subscribers to begin to support the measurement of their industry and through that we will continue to grow, innovate and keep moving the industry forward,” Kelly says. But if that doesn't pan out, the company will have “some tough decisions to make down the road,” he adds.

Nielsen says it is committing to no additional market closures for 2021.

The controversial policy change already has several parties crying foul, saying the ultimate impact will be that it makes radio more difficult to buy at a time when revenues have been dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move puts pressure on the growing number of broadcasters that have said they don’t see sufficient return on investment from Nielsen ratings and have chosen to go without them, a sentiment that has only grown in stature in light of advertising downturns fueled by the pandemic.

The company has been communicating the change in phone calls to broadcasters and agencies and intends to formally announce the change in a client notification Thursday or Friday.

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