“Instead of a huge decline in listening levels, data showed a shift in devices being used to consume radio.”
SARAH MESSER, director at Nielsen, on the effects of Covid.
March 23, 2020. It’s a date that is scribbled in thick black marker on the wall planner in my kitchen. That’s the date Nielsen closed the doors of its UAE offices and sent us all to work from home for ‘a while’ to safely wait out the oncoming pandemic. ‘‘INSTEAD OF A HUGE DECLINE IN LISTENING LEVELS, DATA SHOWED A SHIFT IN DEVICES BEING USED TO CONSUME RADIO.”
Those first few days for most people were a flurry of activity – “holy-moly, I’ve got two kids who need home-schooling/ three dogs/a squawking parrot/a wife or husband also working from home/ no suitable office to make 12 hours of video calls comfortable/and my wifi can’t support a 15-person meeting and Netflix…” [delete as appropriate]. And then, as the so- called new normal started to settle in, and we ventured out of our home cocoon once every three days for emergency purposes and groceries only, we started to realise just how much the world outside had changed. Nothing on the roads, no one walking the streets, empty supermarkets. Silence.
From the media consumption within our own households alone, we all suspected something had changed. I for one assumed everyone was tuning into the news more to see the latest updates, and perhaps more TV screen time to fill the empty hours. And surely the biggest casualty was going to be radio... silence isn’t a word we generally associate with the radio industry.
At Nielsen, we measure all radio listening in the UAE from people aged 10+. In Q4 2019 – and showing absolute consistency with the same metric across all measured quarters since 2017 – more than three quarters (78 per cent) of radio listening happens while travelling. With no commuting, and no school run, we were sure there would be a significant impact on radio listening in Q1 2020. There was indeed an impact, but it was not as we had expected. Instead of a huge decline in listening levels, the first quarter 2020 radio data showed a shift in devices being used to consume radio content and the time of day of consumption; an increase in listening via digital through the internet and mobile, and day-part listening shifted to later in the day, a pattern we usually only see during Ramadan months.
There were some overall declines in total listening levels, of course; the lack of commuting had to have some toll. But it looked to us as though people were loyal to their choice of radio stations and made sure there was still room for radio in their stay-at-home lives.
Interesting insights were also observed by the Nielsen US Audio team in these early lockdown days. The US is a very established radio market that Nielsen has been measuring since the 1930s. The US broadcasters were wondering the same thing: Are we losing all our listeners? On March 26, Nielsen US released the results of a study that showed radio was being used as a trusted source of information, keeping people both informed and connected during the lockdown. They also noted that listening was shifting to more devices.
Our listening diaries seemed to be showing similar patterns as well. So, were people using radio as one of the mediums to stop them going lockdown ga-ga? We at Nielsen UAE wanted to know more so we launched an online survey in mid-April to a nationally representative sample of residents in the UAE. The purpose of the study was to understand all media consumption under lockdown and what was changing. We found some fascinating behaviours.
People who said they were now consuming less TV claimed to be consuming other media instead. When asked specifically about radio listening, more than two fifths (43 per cent) of people said they were listening to less radio in the car. However, instead, many people were increasing their listening to radio in different places; 35 per cent claimed to listen more from home, 33 per cent more on tablet or mobile devices, 35 per cent more on a computer or laptop, and 31 per cent were listening to more radio podcasts. Those who were consuming radio in these places were on average all listening to about 2 hours of radio per day.
A final but useful data point from this study, that should speak to any marketer who has been thinking they should remove radio from their plans; we asked people how comfortable they are with advertising being placed in various types of media – from news to sports content, TV shows and movies, websites, etc. Of all the media listed, radio received the highest score for UAE residents being comfortable with ad content being aired around programming.
Is radio relevant, current and impactful? According to our data, you bet it is.
Sources: Nielsen UAE RAM Q4 2019 and Q1 2020; Nielsen Survey on Sentiment and Media Behaviour April 2020; Nielsen Audio US survey March and June 2020.