Stop Losing Advertisers To Other Marketing Channels - Nielsen Rating Points vs First-Party Data Points

December 8, 2023

You are losing advertisers to other marketing channels. Why? Because other channels have trackable ROI, engagement metrics, and market data. As doom and gloom as this sounds, it‌ poses some very promising opportunities for media companies to gain an edge against other mediums of advertising.

This article delves into the differences between Nielsen Ratings and first-party data, shedding light on the value of implementing a first-party data strategy. By embracing first-party data, media organizations can gain a deeper, more accurate, and granular understanding of their audience, ultimately driving more informed decision-making and meaningful audience connections. As we navigate this dynamic media landscape, it becomes increasingly evident that the future belongs to those who proactively adopt and implement first-party strategies over conventional Nielsen Ratings.

So grab your popcorn and let's dive into where the opportunity lies for media companies.

History of Nielsen Ratings

With the continuous growth of digital platforms and the dissociation of viewership or listeners, media organizations face the challenge of capturing and retaining audiences effectively. While Nielsen Ratings have long been a staple for understanding market data and audience insights, the time has come to explore a better way to take ownership of your audience through first-party data.

Nielsen has served broadcasters well for years, providing listening estimates that have credibility with advertisers. But the radio business has changed. Today, stations are generating a considerable amount of engagement and listening on digital platforms without the tools to effectively track and monetize it. 

Advertisers are asking for reliable digital data and the only way broadcasters can effectively monetize their investments is to “digitize” the audience, creating first-party data that not only fits advertiser needs but positions stations to take full advantage of the digital audience they are creating. 

So, where is the opportunity?

In the world of advertising, marketers hold the reins when it comes to divvying up the budget with channels like SEO, PPC, sponsorships, media, etc. Allocating budget to digital advertising platforms is attractive because it can be tracked and ROI can be measured easily. It’s a hard channel to compete with. But there is a big opportunity here for media companies, and it's all about first-party data; something digital advertisers cannot compete with. 

The future of media companies is in building and owning the data about your listeners/viewers so your advertisers can target more directly. Owning your own first-party data means you can go right to marketers with an even more compelling reason to advertise with you over digital advertising platforms. Your rich and reliable data is something Facebook cant compete with.

“The death of the 3rd-party cookie will privilege those entities that have scale and good 1st-party data.” - Michael Zimbalist, Chief Strategy Officer, The Philadelphia Media Network

What is the difference between Nielsen Ratings and First-Party Data?

The difference between Nielsen Rating and first-party data is that one method offers more unique advantages and the other has more limitations. This makes it crucial for media organizations to understand the differences between the two and make informed decisions on the correct strategy.

Digital ads and Nielsen ratings are the same in that they are both third-party mediums, but Neilson Ratings are more of a third-party data aggregator (you can’t necessarily advertise with them you just leverage their data) where digital ads are running ads on these platforms, plus you get to leverage their data.

When it occurs, the phase-out of 3rd-party cookies is likely to deliver more benefit than loss to broadcasters. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits:

Data Source

Nielsen Ratings: Nielsen Ratings rely on a panel-based system where a selected group of households, individuals, or devices are used as representative samples to measure viewership or listeners. The data is collected by specialized meters and devices that track the content being viewed. 

First-Party Data: First-party data, on the other hand, is collected directly from the media organization's own audience. It includes information that the organization collects directly from its users through various engagement tools.

Scope and Accuracy

Nielsen Ratings: While Nielsen Ratings have been the industry standard for decades, they are limited in their scope. The ratings mainly focus on traditional media channels and may not fully capture the diverse and evolving digital media landscape.

First-Party Data: First-party data provides a more comprehensive and accurate view of the audience. Since it is directly collected from the media organization's audience, it covers a broader range of accurate information. This comprehensive view enables organizations to gain a deeper understanding of their audience's behavior and preferences.

Data Ownership and Control

Nielsen Ratings: With Nielsen Ratings, the data is owned and controlled by Nielsen and the selected panel participants. Media organizations may have access to aggregated data and reports but lack direct control over the data collection process.

First-Party Data: First-party data provides media organizations with complete ownership and control over the data they collect. This level of control empowers organizations to utilize the data in a way that best aligns with their specific goals and objectives.

Granularity and Detail

Nielsen Ratings: While Nielsen Ratings offer valuable insights at a macro level, they may not provide granular data about individual audience members. The data is typically presented in broad demographic profile segments.

First-Party Data: First-party data allows for a more personalized and detailed understanding of individual audience members. This granular level of insight enables media organizations to create targeted content, personalized marketing campaigns, and improved user experiences.

Real-Time Insights

Nielsen Ratings: Nielsen Ratings are often released on a delayed schedule, with data provided on a weekly or monthly basis. This lag in reporting may hinder timely decision-making for media organizations.

First-Party Data: First-party data can be analyzed in real-time, providing media organizations with immediate and actionable insights. This allows them to respond quickly to audience trends, preferences, and engagement patterns.

Real Life Example

Let's look at a media group who at one point relied solely on a third-party aggregator like, Nielsen Ratings, to embracing a first-party data strategy:

Salem Media Group participated in the NAB Pilot program with knowledge of the pending cookie-apocalypse and no clear plan to compensate for the change. Prior to joining the pilot group, Salem had a deep history of data and email acquisition, given the niche they serve. However, Salem was still lacking a cohesive data strategy. 

Could they attain more first-party data, lowering the friction to engage vs. requiring more listener information to engage?

They determined that their data collection focus would be on increasing email addresses, birthdate, and gender data points through engagement tools.

The Results

  • 6% increase on emails collected
  • 71% increase on gender collected
  • 19% increase on birthdays collected
“To be successful, this effort needs to be top down and company-wide. We as broadcasters have the opportunity to leverage our platform to better educate the audience on the benefits and value of data sharing. A coordinated cadence of email, mobile push notifications and social posts helped drive increases in response and the percentage of new members. As a takeaway from our participation, we made the decision to budget a full-time role and began a search for the Head of Digital Audience Growth for the Broadcast Division.”
  1. Deeper Audience Understanding: By tapping into first-party data, the company gains an in-depth understanding of its audience's behavior and preferences. They can now identify which shows, genres, or digital content pieces resonate the most with their listeners, helping them optimize their strategy decisions.
  2. Personalized Content Recommendations: Armed with granular insights, Salem Media Group delivers personalized content recommendations to its listeners, enhancing user satisfaction and retention. Users receive content suggestions tailored to their interests, ensuring a more enjoyable viewing experience.
  3. Targeted Advertising Campaigns: The company uses first-party data to build comprehensive user profiles, enabling them to create highly targeted and relevant advertising campaigns. This results in improved ad relevance, increased engagement, and higher ad revenues.
  4. Real-Time Adaptability: With access to real-time data, Salem Media Group can quickly respond to audience trends and changing preferences. They can tweak content offerings and promotional strategies on the fly, leading to higher user engagement and loyalty.

Salem Media Group transition from relying solely on Nielsen Ratings to embracing a first-party data strategy proves to be a game-changer. The company's ability to understand its audience at a granular level and deliver personalized experiences significantly strengthens its position in the competitive media landscape, ultimately driving growth and long-term success.

Data-Driven Future: Empowering Media with First-Party Insights

The comparison between Nielsen Ratings and first-party data reveals the indispensable role of data-driven insights in the media landscape. While Nielsen Ratings have been a reliable benchmark for audience measurement in the past, the limitations imposed by the evolving digital age have called for a more robust and personalized approach. Embracing first-party data strategies empowers media organizations to establish a deeper and more meaningful connection with their audience. 

By gaining a comprehensive understanding of individual preferences, real-time behavior, and engagement patterns, media companies can make informed decisions that resonate with their listeners on a personal level. As the industry continues to evolve, the adoption of first-party data strategies becomes necessary for media professionals seeking to maintain a competitive edge and drive audience loyalty.

Check out how other media companies are leveraging first-party data:


  2. NAB_PILOT_Borrell_State_of_the_Industry_Report_2022.pdf

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December 8, 2023