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Making Noise: Nielsen Audio Gets Into the Spirit of Total Audience

4 minute read | December 2015

When it comes to reach by medium, radio is unique in that it touches more than 90% of American adults every week according to Nielsen’s Q2 Comparable Metrics Report. Among 35-49 year-olds, the reach is 95%. So it makes perfect sense that Nielsen’s Total Audience initiative is just as focused on the audio industry as it is on TV and video. That emphasis couldn’t have been made more evident during the Product Super Session during Nielsen’s recent Audio Conference in Washington, D.C.

“The audio audience is incredibly engaged – sometimes captive,” said Megan Clarken, EVP of Global Watch Product Leadership at Nielsen. “So we can’t just focus on TV/video when it comes to Total Audience. Audio is a key format to reach audiences.”

And to that end, Clarken kicked off a discussion that dove into the array of technical and complicated world of audio measurement and Nielsen’s ongoing efforts to enhance the way it captures tune-in across linear and digital platforms.

“In order to get to Total Audience for audio, we need to expand our measurement to include diary markets, different types of content, devices and platforms, and we need to gain marketplace adoption,” she said.

The good news is that the foundation to get there is already in place. As Rob Kass, VP of Product Leadership, explained, digital measurement is very much a part of the equation. Nielsen’s software development kit (SDK) enables the measurement of more than 2,500 station streams in Nielsen’s 48 portable people meter (PPM) markets. SDK measurement is also census based, compared to PPM, which is panel based.

Kass explained that the future of digital measurement will involve the deployment of Nielsen’s SDK through a cloud-based technology, which is platform, operating system and device agnostic. The future will also broaden measurement scope to include podcasts and popular streaming services. And to get there, Kass emphasized Nielsen’s work with the industry acknowledging that unlike a panel-based approach, SDK measurement is a team sport requiring collaboration among multiple stakeholders.

At the heart of Nielsen’s PPM audience measurement is its watermarking, or critical band encoding technology (CBET).

So what is watermarking?

In a nutshell, it’s the process of embedding data that humans can’t hear directly into audio content. As part of Nielsen’s continuous improvement efforts, Nielsen has taken steps to enhance its watermark.

When Arun Ramaswamy, Nielsen’s Chief Engineer, took the stage, he focused on the future of CBET technology—making the watermark more robust and stronger. Nielsen’s watermarking involves codes, and each PPM transmits both complete and partial codes back to Nielsen. In situations where partial codes exist, Nielsen has edit rules that “fill in the blanks” by validating against nearby complete codes. Broadcasters are currently updating their station’s encoders with the Enhanced CBET technology. Prior testing and preliminary results from the roll-out show that there is an increase in the quality of the code detection and an increase in average quarter hour audience estimates.

According to Ramaswamy, using smart phones as a replacement for PPM is currently being tested in the U.S. and Canada. This is a “friends and family test,” which was launched after a significant R&D effort to correct issues affecting battery life.

“When a phone detects a watermark, it’s doing work,” he said. “So it consumes battery life. And that will cause people to disable it. So we’ve spent considerable time making the code lighter and not a factor on battery life.”

To close the session, Clarken came full circle on how the enhancements in audio measurement will help close the loop on Nielsen’s Total Audience initiative.

“The medium is so unique and lends itself to Total Audience,” she said. “Measuring the entire audio set to tell a complete story lends itself really well for audio industry. The SDK implementation has been faster and more seamless in audio than in TV, and I love the ease in which this industry will move toward a Total Audience story.”

(Pictured above: Matt O’Grady, EVP, Managing Director, Local Media, Megan Clarken, EVP, Global Watch Product Leadership, Rob Kass, VP, Product Leadership, Arun Ramaswamy, Chief Engineer, and Denise Safko, VP, Product Leadership)