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Can Eastlan Become the Nielsen Alternative?

Recently, I wrote a column questioning whether it was still necessary to subscribe to Nielsen’s Ratings service. The volume of responses and variety of opinions was surprising. Among the people I heard from was Mike Gould, President and CEO of Eastlan Ratings.

Gould sent me an email. He wrote, “One could argue this is a time when radio needs to offer more data, not less. How else can radio compete for dollars now being spent with digital giants like Google?”

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He’s right. The radio industry needs data about the audience to compete with all the sources vying for advertising dollars.

Still, the radio industry should consider alternatives to Nielsen’s incredibly expensive ratings estimates. Can Eastlan become an alternative?

I spoke with Gould to find out.

Gould told me, “I care about radio. The harder we make it to buy radio, the less advertisers will buy it. We have to make it easy to understand and make the buyer feel good about using radio. To do it without any information about the audience makes it harder.”

Eastlan provides tools, mostly in markets where Nielsen does not, to help provide radio with information about the audience.

Eastlan was founded in 1999 by Gould and two others. He said, “It felt like the opportunity was to take out Arbitron’s garbage.”

They started in markets like Grants Pass, OR; Sumtner, SC; and Fairbanks, AK. Eastlan is mostly in smaller markets, although most coming online have populations larger than 100,000.

However, the company is slowly growing in markets dominated by Nielsen. Eastlan measures a couple of top 100 markets (Charleston, SC: #78 and Syracuse, NY: #100). Today, their largest market is Raliegh-Durham, NC (#37).

In the beginning, Eastlan measured radio listening exclusively through telephone recall surveys. Gould says their process has evolved. First, they began including cell phones in their sample. Seven or eight years ago, they began digital recall. Currently, telephones account for less than 20% of their data. Participants complete online surveys that ask about prior day and week listening.

So, how close are Eastlan’s compared to Nielsen’s ratings?

“Kurt Hanson tried new metrics with his Accu-Ratings,” says Gould. “With ours, you will see  familiar metrics.” He adds, “When Radio Online prints Eastlan and Nielsen ratings, they are largely similar. Generally speaking, it is uncommon for a station to be sixth in one service and first in the other.”

A photo of the Eastlan and Nielsen ratings in the Syracuse market

The most significant difference between the two rating services is Nielsen only publishes subscribing station ratings. “I don’t think it’s best to exclude some stations,” Gould told me. “I understand why they do it, but it’s not best for radio.”

A significant portion of my prior column about Nielsen quoted Galaxy CEO and President Ed Levine. Galaxy has not subscribed to Arbitron/Nielsen for the past 16 years. The column did not mention Galaxy’s relationship with Eastlan. I circled back with Levine, who replied, “We subscribe once a year. So, at this moment, we are technically not a subscriber. We have found once a year is all that is necessary in today’s world.”

Levine concurs with Gould about comparing the numbers between Eastlan and Nielsen: ”We have found the 12+ numbers remarkably similar between the two services. If you look at what is published by Nielsen in the trades, The results for Eastlan are remarkably stable year after year as they are in the published data from Nielsen.” 

In markets where both services are available, why should management choose Eastlan over Nielsen? “Price,” Gould concedes. “If we’re the same price as Nielsen, few would choose us. As the number of managers who say the ROI on Nielsen has grown, we’ve grown and gone into larger markets. It’s the value proposition,” he adds.

Gould reports that Eastlan is developing metrics to sell against digital. “There is a perception that digital metrics are accurate, but they include bots, accidents, and things played in the background. Our ratings depend on recall, so they know they were listening. We think it’s the best ROI,” he concludes.

Continuing, he states, “We train a lot of new salespeople. Before selling radio, they’re used to selling something tangible. They have reasons why my car, my insurance, is better. Often, we give new salespeople nothing. They need something to sell with. It’s not just relationships anymore. The world has evolved, and that’s what we can help provide.

So why not challenge Nielsen more directly?

On the television ratings side, at least three companies are proving to be worthy competitors to Nielsen.

The biggest benefactors include:

  • Comscore, which moved quicker than Nielsen to measure timeshifted viewing across all devices. It also measures persons instead of households.
  • iSpot.tv, which signed a deal with NBCUniversal. They also measure audiences’ reactions to creative and individuals.
  • VideoAmp achieved significant funding and has gotten some of the largest agencies to participate in its tests.

Competitors benefited when Nielsen Television Ratings lost its Media Ratings Council (MRC) accreditation in 2021. That provided upstarts with opportunities. Nielsen’s accreditation was restored in 2023.

Nielsen remains the leader in television ratings, but these competitors and others, who have their acolytes, challenges, and detractors, are chipping away at Nielsen’s dominance.

I asked Gould if he thought providing a similar challenge to Nielsen in radio was possible. He doubts it because of consolidation, where three companies control so many stations in the top markets – unless one would come on board.

Gould doesn’t believe anybody in a top 30 market would subscribe to Eastlan at this time. “We are content to stay in our lane, he quips.”

A potential issue for Eastlan is that they do not have MRC accreditation. Many large agencies would hesitate to use their numbers without it. Gould says, “Accreditation comes at a cost, which would be passed on to our customers. They don’t value it.” Further, “If you’re using ratings only for agencies or national, you’re missing the boat—save your money,” he adds.

Maybe Eastlan won’t become a direct competitor to Nielsen anytime soon, but it would behoove the industry to support an alternative to Nielsen’s costly ratings service.

Andy Bloom
Andy Bloomhttps://barrettmedia.com
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.

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