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Nielsen Won't Miss Tom Taylor

by Roger Lanctot | Jan 03, 2019

After 27 years, Tom Taylor, author and publisher of the “Tom Taylor NOW” newsletter, for radio industry acolytes and advocates has turned off his microphone for the last time. “Yes, it’s time for me to retire,” he noted, midway through December. “In my head, I may still think I’m a kid, but my odometer is about to roll over to a large round number (70).”

Aside from the fact that 70 is the new 40, Tom Taylor leaves the booth at a momentous time in the radio industry. Apps are crowding radio aside in in-dash head units – and radio listening overall is in decline.

Industry events nearly conspired to make a graceful departure difficult for Tom, with iHeartMedia in the midst of Chapter 11 and audience measurement firm Nielsen Media seeking a buyer. In fact, Taylor’s parting shot was the report of a restatement of listening data from Nielsen Media.

That report of a restating of Nielsen Media audience measurement data was hardly the first for Nielsen. Nielsen had several such restatements in 2018 and suffered through a tampering lawsuit involving Bubba the Love Sponge. If it weren’t for Tom, I wouldn’t even know who Bubba the Love Sponge was!

I became familiar with Tom Taylor’s work after a fortuitous meeting at a radio-centric event at CES maybe eight years ago. I didn’t realize upon meeting Tom that I would soon be marveling at his daily chronicling of radio industry events after signing up for his newsletter.

Tom brought the industry, personalities and data to life with anecdotes from behind the scenes of major news events. If some agency was hiring sales reps, he was first with confirmation from those reps that those reports were true.

If Pandora or SiriusXM or Cumulus were claiming some marketplace advantage, Tom was there to validate or debunk the claims with from-the-horse’s-mouth insights. I operate on the periphery of the radio industry, but I could see that Tom was stitched into its very fabric. I suddenly feel like a pilot flying on instruments through an impenetrable fog bank. Where will I be, where will any of us be, without Tom?

What will happen to radio??

There is one constituency among Tom’s readers that won’t miss his boundless curiosity and bountiful insights: Nielsen Media. Tom regularly shared Nielsen’s data and dutifully reported its latest listening analysis. 

It is fair to say that Tom was pretty Nielsen-centric in his radio reporting. It is also fair to say that Tom was fair in his reporting of Nielsen’s shortcomings and trials and tribulations.

Just as Tom represented a safe harbor for cozying up with his newsletter every day to get one’s market bearings, Nielsen Media plays the same role for advertisers seeking to leverage radio as a medium to achieve market advantage. Nielsen Media is radio’s fulcrum for advertising capitalization and Nielsen acquired that value proposition for approximately $1.2B when it took over Arbitron.

But no amount of ratings prestidigitation could overcome two massive challenges facing radio audience measurement: 1) overall radio listening is in a steady decline; and 2) 50% or more of radio listening is occurring in cars where no reliable audience measurement exists.

Radio and Nielsen are connected. Radio cannot exist without Nielsen and Nielsen’s radio ratings cannot exist without radio. But the relationship is fundamentally flawed with a massive hole in the middle of the data set.

The onset of connected cars and content streaming via smartphones promises to alter this scenario. The opportunity to measure content consumption in cars is currently being explored by Drive Time Metrics via embedded vehicle connections such as General Motors’ OnStar. 

Newcomers, meanwhile, like ConnectedTravel, are exploring avenues to audience measurement via connected smartphones. Both companies will be touting their solutions and partnerships with car makers at CES 2019 in Las Vegas next week.

The bottom line is that broadcasters are selling advertising without having a solid grasp on precisely who is listening, when and where. The irony, of course, is that the car represents an opportunity to collect near perfect content consumption data correlated to location and possibly enabling the ultimate interpretive coup: Attribution – connecting the ad directly to the desired economic outcome.

It is possible that this year will see a breakthrough in in-vehicle audience measurement and maybe even attribution as car companies and their developer partners explore new means for collecting content consumption data from broadcast sources, HD Radio, SiriusXM, and streaming services. This is a critical turning point for two industries: radio and automotive.

Sadly, Tom Taylor won’t be there to tell us about it. The only question is whether Nielsen Media will be able to tune in. If so, RadioWorld, InsideRadio or the RAIN (Radio and Internet News) Daily Digest will hopefully keep us up to speed.

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