Knowing Nielsen: Panel Change and Audience Change


(By Marc Greenspan) This is another screed about sampling. No, I’m not going to go on about how Nielsen needs to add more panelists in PPM markets. While that would go a long way towards leveling out the sample (and the results), there is no way on Earth that radio will pay for this.

As we have previously stated, the beauty of the PPM methodology is that it accurately records listener behavior. Unfortunately, the yang to that yin is that oftentimes a (read “your”) station’s ratings’ fate may be in the hands of a household or two.

We have seen this countless times in countless markets. We cannot be specific. However, we can say things like:

  • We had a client station that was consistently cleaning their chief competitor’s clock. Then, in one book, the roles reversed. It turned out that a lone meter keeper gave their competition an enormous amount of AQH. Six months later, when the panelist left, things were back to normal.
  • We saw a station in a market getting close to half their (in demo) AQH from two panelists.

You’ve probably seen this in your own station or market. I want to be very clear here. This is a reality but in no way does it delegitimize the ratings Nielsen delivers every 28 days. 

That said, situations like this can have consequences. Program Directors (or Brand Managers) react to this data. A down book spawns the knee-jerk reaction of: “I have to fix something!” No, you don’t.

Changes in the Nielsen panel can have a direct positive or negative effect on your ratings. Your Nielsen-provided Custom Programming Report can provide some insight. A better place to look is in PD Advantage (if you subscribe, and you should).

Two reports can tell you what happened to any station in your market.

The first one is “Panel Change.” Select the demo, station, and surveys you wish to look at. The report will give you three data points:

  1. Continuing – this tells you how much AQH you received from those who were in the panel last survey and this survey.
  2. Incoming – this is AQH from new panelists.
  3. Not in-tab – self-explanatory. This is AQH lost to those who have left the panel.

Run this report after every survey and you’ll have a better understanding of what is happening with your numbers.

The second report is “Audience Change.” This report only compares the current survey to the previous one. It will give you the net results from the listeners who have arrived and those who have left. It provides a bit more depth than the Panel Change report. You do not need to run this every survey unless you have seen some big changes to your numbers.

Knowing your numbers will help you make informed decisions about your product. There are many weapons in your arsenal. Use them to your advantage. If you need any help in understanding or pulling your data, The Ratings Experts stand ready to serve.

This column is part of a series titled “Growing the Radio Pie.” To view past articles, visit The Ratings Experts at Research Director, Inc. online here.

Marc Greenspan is the CEO and founding partner of Research Director, Inc. He can be reached at 410-295-6619 x11 or by email at [email protected]. Research Director, Inc. offers consulting services to media companies to help them grow their audience, ratings, and revenue. Read Marc’s Radio Ink archives here.


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