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Reviews Are Mixed For Nielsen’s ‘Subscriber First’ Policy Change.

Nielsen’s decision to no longer include listening data for non-subscribing radio stations in the summary dataset that fuels the major ad buying systems used by agencies and advertisers is getting mixed reactions from the industry. While numerous buyers and sellers contacted by Inside Radio declined to comment, those that did voiced strongly held positions.

From the buyer’s perspective Bernie Shimkus, VP, Director of Insights at agency Harmelin Media said he’s extremely disappointed at the change and the way it was handled. “As a long-time client, not being consulted before a final decision was made is quite troubling,” he told Inside Radio. “In addition, we feel like we will no longer be receiving the data that we originally contracted for – a full view of radio listening in measured markets.”

Shimkus and other buyers say it will make the planning and buying of radio more difficult at times when it has become more complicated due to disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. The biggest issue, he says, is not having direct access to data for non-subscribing stations in Freewheel’s Strata software, where much of the analysis for ad schedules takes place. “But there are also potentially major issues for planning,” Shimkus points out. “For instance, how do you continue to plan and buy for a specific number of ratings points or impressions if a number of stations in a market are no longer reported? You can’t expect agencies or clients to plan and buy both points and number of spots.”

The absence of listening data for non-subscribers in the software tool will also complicate reach and frequency calculations for agencies since they will no longer have access to accurate totals in markets where they buy radio, Shimkus says. His shop will continue to buy non-subscribing stations but he worries about clients that want to execute similar approaches across PPM and diary markets. “This may be more difficult or impossible under the new policy if enough stations in smaller diary markets disappear from reporting,” he contends. And while Harmelin has access to the respondent level data where non-subscribers will still show up, it will require extra time and effort to use that data in buys. “[That] is just the opposite of what many other digital channels are doing – working to make it easier to purchase and providing better and more timely data,” he observes.

Bigger Issue In Diary Markets

As a subscriber, Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw says he agrees with Nielsen’s business decision. Agencies will still call non-subscribers and negotiate over cost per point and other variables, he argues. “Nielsen has decided they don’t want people to stand under the umbrella that I’m paying for,” he says. “It's a very brave business decision to say I don’t need Nielsen. But if you make that decision, you have to deal with all that entails.”

Salem Communications subscribes to Nielsen in major markets like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Dallas. “People can talk smack about Nielsen but they do bring value to the table,” says President of Broadcast Media David Santrella. “If you’re in a market where there’s a lot of agency business going down, it definitely is a help.”

Salem doesn’t subscribe in most of its smaller markets because it can’t monetize the data and instead sells based on relationships and results. “We’re selling to that tire dealer who’s counting the bodies that walk in the door from the advertising he’s buying,” Santrella says. In addition, new attribution tools allow the broadcaster to provide advertisers with data about people “that never made it to the door but made it to their website….Quite frankly, I don’t need Nielsen to do that,” he says.

Santrella says it could impact buyers if there are a lot of non-subscribing stations in a market that would normally be part of the buy. “It will make it a little harder, but not impossible,” he says.

According to Nielsen’s estimates, about two-thirds of its agency subscribers do not have access to the respondent level data that will still include non-subscribing stations.

Another broadcaster, who asked not to be identified, called it “a heavy-handed policy change that will make radio harder to buy for agencies and could ultimately hurt the industry at a time when the industry needs all the help it can get.” This person argues that with the change, agencies and other clients “will no longer get an accurate snapshot of who is listening to what station – only a biased report based on who pays Nielsen and who doesn’t.”

Veteran broadcaster Jay Meyers, President & CEO of Broadcast Management and Technology, also has concerns. An advertiser that wants to buy the top three stations in 25-54 adults may end up with stations that are actually ranked No. 2, 6, and 7 due to non-subscribers being left out of the data. “The doubt about what you’re really getting will eventually erode the confidence level of the advertiser in the radio industry,” he predicts.

But Nielsen says its “Subscriber First” mandate is consistent with policies for other media it measures, including network TV and network radio, along with external providers such as Numeris, Canada’s TV and radio audience measurement firm.

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