Nielsen Completes Radio Service Pilot Study

Nielsen has completed a pilot study of its new diary-based, U.S. radio measurement service, scheduled to launch next spring. The trial was fielded from Dec. 4-10 in Lexington, Ky., one of 51 small markets to be measured by Nielsen when it goes live with the fledgling service beginning with the eight-week March-April, 2009 survey. The company expects to unveil initial findings from the test in February.

The media measurement behemoth’s U.S. radio ratings entree uses the same address-based sampling methodology Nielsen began using for TV measurement beginning with the November sweeps. It represents the first significant challenge to Arbitron’s decades long, near-monopoly on radio ratings in the U.S. Nielsen has been measuring radio audiences around the world for more than 60 years, in such markets as Australia, China and South Africa.

Apart from Huntsville, Ala., and Shreveport, La., which will be rated in spring and fall, the new service will measure markets only once a year, causing some critics to characterize it as “a step backwards.” However Nielsen plans to employ larger sample sizes than Arbitron offers in comparably sized markets, which Nielsen Media Research managing director for North America Lorraine Hadfield says will reduce ratings “bounce,” a primary concern voiced by Cumulus and Clear Channel, who have inked deals for the service. For example, Nielsen ratings for Columbia, Mo., with a market population of 127,500, will  be based on a sample size of 1,200 diaries, while Macon, Ga., (population: 280,700) will get 2,200 diaries.

Nielsen announced the service Nov. 18, seven months after Cumulus invited qualified vendors to submit proposals to conduct a new audience measurement service in its small-and mid-size markets. Cumulus no longer subscribes to Arbitron in those 51 markets. At the same time, Clear Channel has signed with Nielsen to take the service in 17 of the 51 markets.

Nielsen is the parent company of Radio and Records, as well as Mediaweek.