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TV Is Leading The Move To Impressions. Radio May Be Next.

On Tuesday, Nielsen announced it would change the currency that local U.S. TV advertising is bought and sold on to impressions, starting in January 2022. Among ad agencies, impressions hit a tipping point in 2021 with just over half of Nielsen's ad agency clients saying they are currently transacting business this way. While the radio industry has been slower to make the transition, there are signs that more and more AM/FM advertising will be bought and sold this way moving forward.

Impressions flips the currency from the percentage of the population reached by an ad campaign (rating points) to the projected number of viewers or listeners reached. The impressions trajectory is moving swiftly on Madison Avenue. About one third of agencies surveyed by Nielsen said they were transacting business on impressions in October 2019. That grew to 40% in October 2020 and exceeded 50% in 2021.

The prevailing sentiment is that agencies want to buy broadcast media like they purchase digital advertising. Driving the shift is the desire to buy media holistically, with a common metric that can be used across media channels. Agency buyers liked transacting on impressions because it makes it easier to compare and combine media platforms, simplifies cross-platform media planning and counts more consumers.

Of course any change in how media is bought and sold comes with challenges. Agencies cite difficulty in getting impressions info from stations, educating broadcasters on how the metric works and transitioning the industry away from ratings points which have been used for decades.

However, rating points aren’t entirely going away. Media planning still needs to be based on gross rating points in order to take reach and frequency into account. “Impressions aren’t coming at the expense of ratings but in addition to them,” Nielsen Audio Managing Director Brad Kelly told Inside Radio. “You still have to plan with ratings points.”

For now, TV is leading the move to impressions. It’s occurring in tandem with the integration of broadband-only homes into Nielsen's local TV measurement metrics in January 2022. "Impressions are the great equalizer across all screens, programs, listeners and viewers,” said CEO David Kenny. “Nielsen's move to prioritize reporting impressions will help standardize the way it measures ads and content, enabling greater comparability across National, Local and Digital and is in line with Nielsen's initiative to drive comparable metrics which are foundational to Nielsen ONE."

Nexstar Media Group, the country's largest local broadcasting group, said it fully supports the move to impressions-based measurement. Hearst Television is also a proponent of the move. So are major ad agencies like IPG Mediabrands, which has been buying radio and television on impressions since 2016. "In moving forward to a more data informed approach whereby we target more representative and inclusive audiences, impressions are absolutely the core building block that we must start with as an industry,” said Kathy Doyle, EVP, Managing Director, Local Investment, at IPG’s Magna Global.

Among agencies currently transacting based on impressions, about one third said they use them to buy TV and just over two-thirds (66.7%) to purchase both radio and TV. And more are expected to make the leap in 2022. Nielsen’s August 2021 agency client survey shows 36% said they intend to move to impressions-based buying. Of that group, roughly three fourths said they intend to do so within 3-6 months.

The major ad buying platforms have committed to making impressions more prominent in their systems, making it easier for buyers that want to transact this way. And while impressions are included in Nielsen Audio’s TAPSCAN software, you have to scroll a way’s to get to them. A plan to make impressions the new default is on the drawing board for TAPSCAN. Keep in mind that a default position is for a new user. Existing TAPSCAN users can modify the order of the columns as they see fit.

The volume of radio business now being transacted in impressions is significant in major markets like Los Angeles, where most buys are agency-driven.

As the shift slowly gains momentum, broadcasters are of the mind that not all impressions are created equal. “We want to differentiate how you value a radio cost per thousand as opposed to a digital cost per thousand,” Miles Sexton, Chair of the Southern California Broadcasters Association, told Inside Radio in July. “They’re not the same across media.” Sexton thinks radio can do a better job differentiating its value on the media landscape so radio is valued on its own merits, such as the trust it engenders with listeners.

And as the transition to impressions continues to gain steam, there is a radio industry lobbying effort to re-label “average quarter hour persons” as “average impressions.”

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