Trying To Make Sense of the Online Listening Numbers
(by Ed Ryan)
Yesterday, Triton Digital released its monthly online listening ranker for July. The three month trend shows a decline in online listening which Triton Chief Operating Officer Mike Agovino attributes to a change in summer listening habits. Vacations, he says, have an impact on in-office listening. That explanation goes against the claim that most people in the digital space make, that online listening is rapidly shifting to mobile. If people are in their cars driving to see grandma, they can connect to the dash. If they are heading to the beach, they can lay out fully exposed to skin cancer, with buds in ears, listening to Pandora via G3 or G4. No?
So let's talk about the numbers using Pandora - which consistently leads the Triton rankers - as an example. A huge challenge, moving forward, will be determining what metric should be used to determine how many actual listeners an online audio company has and how to sell that metric. Should a person who listens for 6 minutes be counted? How can you determine when a computer is on for 5 hours, if anyone is listening or just tuned in and walked away? What do the advertisers and advertising agencies want to see from digital sellers?
Using the 6AM-8PM, Monday through Friday domestic ranker, Pandora topped the Triton monthly rankers for May, June and July. Triton determines Pandora is number one by the metric "Active Average Sessions." In May, Pandora had 1.425 million Active Average sessions. In June, Pandora had 1.421 and in July 1.413. A minor downward trend, but still a downward trend. The Triton domestic ranker is based on log-based information provided by the reporting entity (it's not MRC accredited). Now lets compare with numbers Pandora presents.
Pandora says it now has a little over 6% of all audio listening. And the company claims it's disrupting the radio industry and cutting into radio's multi-billion dollar revenue pie. There's no denying the revenue growth at Pandora. There's also no denying that as listening increases so does the cost they have to pay out for the content it delivers. The challenge is figuring out the real listening numbers (for every online audio company). Pandora releases numbers in a different metric than Triton. And, they release more than one metric.
Pandora says total listening hours for July 2012 were 1.12 billion and active listeners were 54.9 million. In June, listener hours were 1.08 billion and active listeners were 54.5 million. And, in May listener hours were 1.10 billion and active listeners were 53.3 million. Pandora reports metrics that show an increase nearly every month, a small increase, but an increase nonetheless. Remember, Triton shows a summer decrease. So, what are the real numbers? What determines a real online listener? Most importantly, how can advertisers understand they are getting real listeners who are tuned in when their commercial airs?
Triton defines Average Active Sessions as: "Total Listening Hours divided by hours in the reported time period. TLH is defined as the total number of hours that the station/publisher has streamed during sessions with a duration of at least one minute in total within the reported time period."
Pandora describes active users as: "the number of distinct registered users that have requested audio from our servers within the trailing 30 days to the end of the final calendar month of the period. The number of active users may overstate the number of unique individuals who actively use our service within a month as one individual may register for, and use, multiple accounts."
If summer listening trends point down according to the Triton metric, why do they point up according to Pandora metrics? Pandora did not respond to our request to clarify the numbers before we went to print with this story. Maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal if Pandora's stated goal wasn't to cut into radio's tiny 7% of the advertising pie.
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