Nielsen Radio Ratchets Up Ratings Race

As Nielsen Radio prepares to release its first radio ratings report later this month in 51 small and midsized markets, it is setting the groundwork for a major competitive battle with Arbitron, the dominant radio ratings firm. Touting the advantages of its address-based sampling methodology to deliver more representative samples than Arbitron, Nielsen released Thursday (Aug. 6) a report detailing cell-phone-only penetration in each of the markets.

The TV ratings titan also said it had exceeded recruitment targets among major demographic groups, especially among the hard-to-reach 18-24 and 25-34 groups.

As more and more consumers cut the cord on their telephone landline for cell phones, it has created a new challenge for audience researchers already struggling with convincing younger consumers to participate in research surveys. Radio stations, particularly those targeting younger listeners, have been concerned that an under-representation of CPO households in samples could shortchange their ratings.

While Arbitron has capped cell-phone-only samples at 10 percent of the total sample, Nielsen’s report showed its radio-ratings service delivered cell-phone-only samples that exceed 10 percent in most of the markets it measures. More important, the CPO penetration for each of the 51 markets was in line with the estimates of penetration by state provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which Nielsen cited as “the most reliable source of measurement for all CPO homes.”

Crediting its improved sampling technique and its preprinted sticker diary, Nielsen also exceeded its demographic recruitment targets based on census estimates. Total sample sizes in the 51 markets averaged 39 percent above target listeners 12 and older. Among the hard-to-reach 18-34 demographic, Nielsen exceeded the target by 61 percent. The 25-54 demographic came in 30 percent above target. African-Americans samples came in 12 percent above target. The only target in which Nielsen fell below the mark was Hispanics, off by 7 percent.

“Effective radio measurement starts with a reliable sample, and Nielsen hit these samples right out of the ballpark,” said Dr. Michael Link, vp of methodological research for Nielsen. “When our ratings are released later this month, they will be based on the most representative sample that the radio industry has ever seen.”

Nielsen is pushing hard to sign up clients. So far, its radio ratings service has attracted a number of radio broadcasters including ESPN Radio, Cumulus Media, Clear Channel Radio and Maverick Media, as well as several agencies.