The good news for the radio industry is that Nielsen just reported the medium’s audience rose substantially in October, nearly recovering all of the erosion it experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic to date. The bad news is that it comes with a caveat: Nielsen made a methodological change in October to factor people who listen with bluetooth headphones that effectively boosted radio’s audience by 4%.
Nielsen called the headphone adjustment a one-time factor that would not be broken out in future months, but the inclusion fundamentally alters the bases for Nielsen’s estimates for U.S. radio audiences.
Nielsen had been planning to make an adjustment for some time, because it’s radio audience measurement technology -- portable people meters, or “PPMs” -- cannot measure listening done via a Bluetooth headphone, so it developed a method for factoring it based on surveys of former Nielsen PPM panelists who left Nielsen’s panel.
That said, Nielsen executives recapped how radio’s audiences have been “recovering” month-to-month since March, when it began eroding due to the displacement of work and social lives following the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic.
Effective with its October estimates -- including the headphone adjustment -- Nielsen says U.S. radio audiences are 95% of what they were in March.
To understand the impact of the headphone adjustment, Nielsen executives noted that October’s radio audience was up 6% over September’s and about 2 of those percentage points came from “organic” listening, while four of those percentage points came from the headphone adjustment.
During a briefing with clients today, Nielsen executives indicated the headphone adjustment had a bigger impact on some demographics and markets more than others, noting that some big urban cities such as San Jose, CA; Washington, DC; and Austin, TX, had disproportionately bigger gains from the adjustment vs. markets like "Greensboro and Las Vegas."