PPM Can Be Confusing...
January 7, 2014
Coach's Note: I want to thank the All Access family and all of you who have sent well wishes to me on my new position as Urban/UAC Editor. To the best of my ability I will carry on with the legacy Jerry started with this section.
Veteran Jock: I work nights in a market with PPM. I have been around for a while and getting used to this versus what we were taught before has been like learning a new language. I sort of understood the diary thing because every PD I ever worked for stressed what to do and not to do if we knew anyone who got a diary. I did once get a Nielsen TV diary, and now I am getting used to calling Arbitron, "Nielsen-Arbitron Audio." It is all kind of confusing. Someone told me that Nielsen was always involved with PPM; is that true? Another thing: I am still a little hazy on how people give me credit for listening to my show. I also read where more people will be tested, I am just curious.
Coach: There are always challenges with anything new. It is especially hard getting used to a new system after years of being under something else. Arbitron is now Nielsen Audio, not Arbitron-Nielsen Audio, but at least you were in the ballpark. I am glad you are asking what many have questions about; I love the fact you admit you are trying to comprehend it all. So let me answer your questions.
The Temporary Partnership
In mid-2000 Nielsen and Arbitron announced they would cooperate in testing Arbitron's new Portable People Meter (PPM). The first test took place in the Philadelphia-Wilmington, DE area during the fourth quarter of 2000. Nielsen reportedly spent a little over $2 million assisting with the development of PPM and encouraged Arbitron to expand testing. Houston was next. Arbitron was in need of a financial partner and the two companies had an agreement granting Nielsen first right of refusal on a permanent, joint PPM venture, which was to also involve TV audience measurement. However, Nielsen decided to bow out and let Arbitron to go it alone with PPM, but still continued to work with them on a few other non-related projects.
Those who agree to be survey panelists are paid incentives to wear a meter, which tracks their exposure to media and entertainment -- including broadcast, cable and satellite television, traditional radio, satellite radio, online radio, cinema advertising and other types of digital media. Broadcast and online radio signals are encoded with inaudible signals. These codes are detected by the PPM software and that is how information is collected. The PPM software is equipped with a motion sensor.
The current PPM 360 meter looks like a cell phone but is smaller and information can be uploaded directly from it -- a huge improvement from the original hardware, where data could only be reported via a landline phone modem and could only upload when docked in a recharger in panelists' homes. The updated use of wireless technology has made things much easier for the panelists and gathering information.
To be electronically measured for ratings, radio stations (both Nielsen Audio subscribers and non-subscribers) are eligible to receive free encoders that send out continuous silent audio signals which are detected by the worn meters. A radio broadcast company has to inform Nielsen Audio on the number of stations owned.
There are two encoders sent to each station. One is activated and placed in the transmitter rack and the other serves as a backup. For individual recognition, each station gets an ID code, which is transmitted within the silent audio signal. Upon request, separate encoders will be sent to stations wishing to separately market other forms of digital audio, such as Internet, podcasts or HD stations. Sirius/XM satellite radio will also be provided encoders for measurement. Although the encoders are free for radio broadcasters, only Nielson Audio subscribers can use the ratings results for sales or marketing.
Motion and Listening
It is important to understand how motion relates to listening/exposure. The microphone on the meter is always on, and will record all coded audio. Meeting minimum motion requirements qualifies the panelist's recorded listening/exposure to be part of the in-tab, which means the information will count for ratings measurement. If a panelist does not meet the minimum required motion for a broadcast day (4a-4a), none of the day's recorded listening/exposure will be used for ratings calculations. For example, if a panelist only meets the minimum motion requirements six out of seven days, only six days of recorded information will be included in the rating results. As stated previously, the meter does two things: It records the amount of time (motion) a panelist wears a meter and it records any radio or digital encoded audio.
Panelists can listen as little or as much as they want, but the daily motion minimums have to be met for recorded listening to count for measurement. The amount of motion time is monitored and converted to a number of points earned for the day. These points determine the incentives paid to the panelist.
For a family to remain a Portable People Meter (PPM) survey household, participants must maintain a solid record of compliance with the rules. If successful, a household could conceivably serve the two-year panel maximum. However, if any one member of a family does not regularly carry the meter, the entire household will be dropped from the panel and replaced.
Causes for Panel Removal
There are numerous reasons for a household to be removed as panelists from the PPM survey. Reasons include a family's request for removal, a move out of the metro area, and constant disconnections of the home phone (or cellphone, in a cellphone-only family) by the phone company, a radio station employing a member of the household, and others that may yet be determined. Panel relations specialists stay in communication with survey households to encourage proper usage and answer any questions.
Increased Sample Size
This has always been an issue and it is good to see now that Nielsen Audio has officially taken over, they have made it a top priority to increase sizes by 6%, (more people on panels in cities) with the biggest gains in markets 31-48. In plain English, it means they are going to open their pocketbook and spend the necessary monies for more people to be surveyed. These and other key changes are scheduled for the second half of 2014, including better sample representation of Hispanics, African-Americans, and improved in-station monitoring of the encoding system.
You may not be a programmer or be employed at a Nielsen Audio subscribing station, but you owe it to yourself to learn as much as possible about the process used to measure your success as a personality and that of your station. PPM all boils done to one thing --it's just a rating methodology providing quicker access to audience research for programming and a standard for advertising sales. As an air personality, keep doing good radio and hopefully your superiors will continue to gage things accordingly.