Ando Media released its latest webcast audience ratings the other day. It created quite a stir, but unfortunately, the dust-up with media buyers obscured the real story.
Ando Media has changed the rules of the game in the middle of the game. And those rule changes have serious implications for both radio stations and Arbitron.
Ando has abandoned the traditional AQH and Cume metrics carried over from Arbitron, replacing them with three new measures: Average Active Sessions, Session Starts, and Average Time Spent Listening.
At the same time, the company has switched from Arbitron’s five minute requirement to a new, much more lenient, one minute requirement. While this may seem a trivial matter that has nothing to do with radio, read on.
Ando Media’s CEO Robert J. Maccini declared:
The five minute rule was a legacy of terrestrial radio measurement and did not accurately reflect digital consumption habits, particularly with mobile devices.... Terrestrial radio AQH and Cume measurements are not the best metrics for measuring today’s audience delivered via a digital channel and do not accurately pertain to online audio.... The changes were made in response to requests from both the publisher and the agency community.
Perhaps, but we believe there is a little more going on. We think the changes were made to distance Internet radio from terrestrial radio and make Internet radio look stronger.
To understand, we have to look at the new measures and how they differ from traditional AQH and Cume. You probably know what AQH is, and Ando measures it similarly to Arbitron. Ando’s Cume definition is the thing to note. Here’s what they say about Cume:
Cume (is) the number of unique persons (defined as the number of different IP addresses) who listened to a station for a minimum of 5 minutes within a reported time period. Listening period of less than 5 minutes are not included. All 20 listed groups represent multiple channels of programming and CUME for a particular group is the number of unique listeners unduplicated across all the channels reported.
Cume and AQH were replaced by the three new metrics. Here’s how they define them:
Average Active Sessions: The average number of streams of one minute or more that are active within a time period.
Session Starts: The number of streams of one minute or more started with a time period.
Average Time Spent Listening: The average number of hours for each session lasting more than one minute within a time period.
The first big change is reducing the five minute rule to one minute. Maccini speaks of digital consumption habitswhich is really code for low TSL. People don’t listen very long to online media. Shortening the five minute rule captures more of the “drive-by” listening that takes place online.
A second change is the abandonment of Cume. While Ando Media calls it Cume, the company really counts IP addresses, not people. It really doesn’t know how many people are actually listening. It could be no one, it could be an entire college dorm floor.
No longer reporting Cume acknowledges this. Reporting Sessions simply indicates how many devices are “tuned” to a stream. The change is not a trivial one.
The table compares a report from last year to the latest. (Click to enlarge.) The first column is the old AQH. The second is the new Average Active Sessions. The third column is the old Cume, and the fourth column is the new Session starts. Notice that most of the stations have similar AQH and Average Sessions, but the Session Starts numbers are tremendously larger than the old Cume.
What’s going on?
Ando measured Cume as radio did, counting each IP address only once for a group of streams. Now Ando counts each Session within a group so that companies with multiple streams can have the same IP Address counted over and over.
It is like combining the Cumes of WLTW and WHTZ without taking into account that many of the same people listen to both stations. We don’t add Cumes together because it inflates the apparent combined audiences, but apparently, its ok to do it for web stations.
These changes portray online radio as much stronger than the traditional metrics of AQH and Cume did. It also opens online radio ratings up to more manipulation.
Ando Media has applied for MRC accreditation, and they seem confident they will receive it. If they do, MRC will have blessed metrics like Session Starts.
Broadcasters should demand that Arbitron start producing metrics similar to Ando Media’s. Eliminating the five minute requirement and combining station cumes will put radio back on equal footing with online radio, and once again show the relative strength of terrestrial radio.