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The Inside Story On Nielsen’s Plans To Reinvent The Diary Ratings Service.


Nielsen is making sweeping methodological changes to its diary-based radio ratings service that affect everything from how survey participants are recruited, screened, and incentivized to how diary-keepers record their audio listening.


While keeping the representative, census-based, random probability samples that it’s known for, Nielsen is finally bringing the half-century old paper-and-pencil diary service into the 21st Century. “It’s the biggest investment that we're making, ever, into the diary service,” VP Of Insights Jon Miller told Inside Radio. “It’s going to modernize the service, make it more competitive, and more importantly, better able to capture all the ways people listen.”


The multi-year effort, which began last year, is comprised of four key initiatives aimed at getting more young people and other difficult-to-reach groups to participate in the recall-based service that measures more than 150 local radio markets. The goal is to improve sample proportionality, making it more closely resemble the market population being measured.


Here are the components of what Nielsen is trumpeting as its Audio Diary Transformation:

eScreener and Digital Incentives


The first contact Nielsen has with a household is the survey screener, which has long been delivered via the U.S mail. Now the process is being conducted digitally. The household fills out an electronic form that collects info such as the demographics and phone numbers of its members. No more mailing crisp dollar bills in envelopes as an incentive to participate. New digital incentives that “fit into the way people live their lives today – on their phones,” have taken their place, says Nielsen Audio Managing Director Rich Tunkel. Participants choose between gift cards from Home Depot, Starbucks, Chili's and other retailers, or can opt for cash via Venmo or PayPal.


The hope is that using digital methods to screen and incentivize participants will improve sample proportionality, especially among younger demos. Both the eScreener and digital incentives have already been implemented across Nielsen’s diary and PPM markets.


Mobile Survey (mSurvey)


Sometime next year, paper diaries will be replaced by a mobile diary, a web-based survey that can be filled out on a phone or other digital device. The mSurvey, which is not an app, uses the same data collection as the paper diary: participants enter their age, sex, and ethnicity, and then record their listening occasions each day over a seven-day period.


Unlike the paper diary, there are no columns to check but there are data fields where participants enter the station name, dial position, call letters, etc., along with the start and stop time of their listening and where it took place. There’s also a field to enter other forms of audio listening (see separate story). Respondents can’t skip ahead to the next day to record their listening. The interface displays what they’ve entered so far for the day and Nielsen can send texts and emails to remind respondents to record their listening. Survey participants can see in the interface whether their fellow household members are filling out their surveys and give them a nudge. “The goal is to make sure we're taking the best learnings and approach from the MRC-accredited gold standard paper diary and bring that forward into an electronic mode,” says Tunkel. “We don't want to lose anything in that process.”


Address-Based Sample


Nielsen has been transitioning from random-digit dialing to a full address-based sample and now about 80% of its sample comes from using addresses. The goal is 100%. Landline phones have vanished from a massive percentage of U.S. homes and address-based sampling is another tactic Nielsen is using to better represent the population. “It’s making sure that everyone has a chance to participate, and that we get the full view of the market,” Tunkel says.


Eliminating paper diaries and postage cost brings cost savings to Nielsen’s efficiency-focused new owners. Will the company return some of those savings to its customers? Or plow it into larger sample sizes? “It's not a straight cost savings, exercise. It may be that it requires larger starting sample frames to get the same response rates, or it may be that we've got to add additional steps in the process of contact with them through different modes of communication,” Tunkel says. “There's a sensitivity that we need to bring a resilient service forward, both in terms of the measurement, the data that comes out of that measurement, and providing a service that is affordable to our clients. The objective is to make sure we've got a strong measurement service that our clients can feel good about and support for decades to come.”

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