I Do Not Understand Nielsen ...
July 7, 2015
Over the holiday weekend I was thinking about some of the stuff I like -- Uno's deep dish pizza in Chicago, any baseball game, and especially an air personality interested in understanding more than what to do behind the mic. This young lady is working in a Nielsen PPM market and just wanted to understand how it works.
Coach: First of all, I love it when a jock is not trying to judge the success or down ratings on the request lines. I will just give you the basics, but I also suggest you ask your boss about PPM during your next aircheck critique session.
Jock: That's kind of the problem. He's talked to me a little about Mscore, but is kind of vague about the process of how PPM works. When the ratings come out, he always talks about PPM in staff meetings. Mostly it's about the results and what we need to do.
Coach: That is interesting. But then again, all OMs and PDs are created differently. Maybe he understands the results and the panels more than the nuts and bolts. Some people only retain the information they think is necessary to be successful. Your boss might be one of those people. Is your boss a PD, OM/PD, or a Brand Manager? Also, how are things going with the ratings?
Jock: He is an OM/PD and in charge of four stations. Our group is doing pretty good and my station is in the top 5 for our 18-34. He shares the info with us. The VP/Marketing seems to really like him.
Coach: He sounds very conscientious and good at interpreting what to do with PPM. It really isn't necessary to understand the entire process of PPM.
Jock: Well, I want to know everything about everything and I am hoping you can tell me. I want to know how the thing works. My PD has mentioned something about coding and our transmitter.
Coach: Yes, stations are provided with encoders, I will start with that for you. To be electronically measured for ratings, radio stations (both Nielsen subscribers and non-subscribers) are eligible to receive free encoders that send out continuous silent audio signals. The Portable People Meters are worn by survey panelists and detect the transmitted inaudible codes. A radio broadcast company has to inform Arbitron on the number of stations owned.
Two encoders are sent to each station, one will be activated and placed in the transmitter rack; 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 Nielsen subscribers can use the ratings results for sales or marketing.
Survey Panel Selection
The methodology for selection is simple; households are randomly chosen to serve on Portable People Meter panels, with family members referred to as panelists. The socio-demographic composition, age, sex, and race, determine the number of panelists for the sample size of a market. Nielsen uses information provided by the U.S Census Bureau for electronic measurement. Panels are built through the use of zip codes with listed landline phone numbers and door-to-door canvassing referred to as in-person recruitment. The later identifies cellphone-only households and also matches addresses to the cell numbers. This is important because there are so many landline-less residences these days.
All panelists can serve from six months up to two years, and are provided cash and other incentives to participate. Much like airline mileage programs, points are awarded if certain compliance requirements are met or exceeded. New households are transitioned to replace those phased out or dropped from the panel.
Jock: Alright, they get on a panel and then what?
Coach: Then Nielsen sends panelists a meter resembling a cellphone. Once you start panel duties, it automatically uploads coded collected radio exposure/listening information. .
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 coded audio
Jock: Whoa, I don't think I would ever take part in any survey like this, no matter how much money or gifts somebody gave me. The selecting thing sounds very random. Is this like when they test products at the mall? I took part in something like that for a free dinner in the food court.
Coach: Somewhat, but remember, as I mentioned a panelist can serve up to two years. Here is a little more detail about panelists. For a family to remain a Portable People Meter 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.
There are other 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, and if a radio station employs a member of the household. Panel relation specialists stay in communication with survey households to encourage proper usage and answer any questions.
Jock: I want to know who wakes up and starts carrying a cellphone around the house. You said it is like a cellphone. I check my phone in the morning, but it is not the first thing I pick up. As I wake up, I get around to it. I am having a hard time getting with this. How big are these panels?
Coach: Without going into great detail, large enough theoretically to represent all the determining demographics in a town. However, there have been problems from market to market with age cells and minority selection. Nielsen is in a constant fix and readjustment mode in PPM markets. They do their best and even increased panel sizes in many instances to try and get a better reflection of what people are exposed to for encoded signals.
Jock: Exposed to?
Coach: PPM is a combination of what panelists listen to and are exposed to.
Jock: This exposed thing is throwing me, why not just say listen to?
Coach: The encoded picks up a signal you are exposed to. Sometimes it is a station people listen to and other times it might be a station you have to listen to because you are in someone else's space. Like a beauty shop or you are at work and have no control of what is on the radio. Therefore, your meter will pick up on what it is exposed to.
Jock: And that stuff counts, too, for my ratings?
Coach: For yours, your station, every station in your cluster, and every radio station in your market.
Jock: I have so many other questions, I had no idea all of this was involved.
Coach: And this might be why your boss never gets into all the details and just deals with you and the staff on the results and strategies.
Jock: So if it's only about the signal and encode, why does a station need jocks?
Coach: You have touched on a subject near and dear to my heart and a very long philosophical discussion in itself. But remember, radio is still a combination of art and marketing. Regardless of the method of measurement, without those two, a station is not even passively exposed to anyone.
Jock: I really do have more questions.
Nielsen Audio (Formerly Arbitron) requires more than just a little of your time to comprehend. Here is a link if you want more information on PPM.