What To Expect When Nielsen’s Headphone Listening Adjustment Goes Into Effect.

The industry is still getting its arms around Nielsen’s plan to adjust its audience estimates to account for headphone listening to encoded station streams. To help clients understand what to expect when the change goes into effect with the October 2020 survey, the ratings provider released preview data for nine markets that show how the Average Quarter-Hour increase will look based on market, format, and other variables.

As Inside Radio reported Tuesday, the company will adjust upward quarter-hour estimates for encoded station streams to compensate for headphone listening uncaptured by the PPM. The adjustment will be based on data from a survey of 5,000 former PPM panelists.

Nielsen applied the adjustment to currency ratings for New York, Nassau-Suffolk, Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Portland, Charlotte, and Orlando and showed clients how it changed total AQH Persons Using Measured Media (PUMM) levels for 6+, 18-34 and 25-54.

The data shows total radio listening 6+ increased as much as 6% in New York and Minneapolis and as little as 2% in Detroit. The differences have to do with how many stations encode their streams in a given market – many do not – and how many of those station streams are highly rated. “The more station streams in a market that are encoded, and the higher the portion of them that are highly ranked, the bigger the PUMM lift will be in the market,” Bill Rose, Senior VP of Audio Product Leadership, said during a webinar for clients Tuesday.

For example, New York (and its embedded market of Nassau Suffolk) and Minneapolis each have a high level of encoded streams, so they will get a bigger bang from the headphone adjustment. More than half (54%) of New York’s top 10 rated radio stations and 68% in Minneapolis encode their streams, compared to only 28% in L.A. and 32% in Charlotte.

Your Mileage May Vary

Air talent adjust their headphones frequently but how will Nielsen’s once-a-year headphone listening adjustment affect your station? Among 301 stations in the nine market study that have an encoded streaming partner or a standalone stream with at least 100 AQH persons, the average AQH gain was 7%. But Nielsen reports audience estimates two different ways. Of the 301 stations, 179 were using total line reporting, which combines the over the air station’s audience with the online stream. Those TLR stations saw an average 5% gain in their total AQH persons. The other 122 standalone streams, whose audience estimates aren’t combined with their broadcast partner, had a 59% AQH persons increase. “Overall we saw across all markets about a 90,000 increase in quarter-hour persons added to radio listening as a result of the headphone adjustment,” Rose said.

How might it affect your station’s market ranker? Among the roughly 40% of top 10 stations in the nine preview markets that got the headphone adjustment because they encode their streams, more than two thirds (68%) didn’t see a change in rank among persons 6+. One in four stations (25%) had a ranker change of one position and 7% changed 2-3 places. “The results are consistent by demo,” Rose said.

But not every station is encoding their stream and thus having its ratings adjusted. Still, because some stations are being adjusted, it could have an effect on the relative rank of others.

Here’s a key point that could get overlooked as programmers look forward to a minor ratings bump: The expected lift is based on unrounded AQH persons but Nielsen rounds up or down to the next hundred. “Because of rounding, sometimes you might see an increase in your average persons and sometimes you may not,” Rose explained.

And averages are just that, so some stations will get a bigger lift than others. Nielsen broke out the top 15 stations in the nine-market preview based on their AQH persons increase. Without identifying them by call letters, a news/talk/information station in L.A. had an AQH persons lift of 3,400. While that amounts to a 14% increase in AQH, it wasn’t enough to trip the rounding to a 0.1 rating point increase. For a public news/talk station in Minneapolis, the headphone listening adjustment delivered a 1,900-person increase for a 13% AQH gain, enough to round up its rating point by 0.1. All told, of the 301 stations with a measurable internet stream audience, 14 received a 0.1 AQH rating point increase as a result of the adjustment.

The results also vary by format. The biggest winners: Sports (21% increase) talk/personality (+16%) and news/talk/information (+13%). Every format in the preview data had an increase overall.

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