The PPM Evolution
October 4, 2011
It's Still An Image-Based Game
Why do some programmers believe Arbitron's PPM is good for Urban radio while others are convinced that its small sample often under represents their true audience? For one thing, those that believe it's good are excited about new PPM enhancements. They feel that PPM will eventually help radio become more accountable. They believe it will help us to program more effectively and allow us to understand more about our audience's listening preferences than before. With PPM we have moved from four quarterly surveys a year to 13, including the holiday survey period from the middle of December to mid-January.
Now the detailed information with diary measurement we use to get quarterly is provided monthly. That means we can dig in and analyze any format change sooner. And PPM changed from monthly Arbitrend service to the same dayparts and demographics in weeklies. It still takes a few weeks to get the data back from Arbitron after the listening occurs -- one week for the panelists to get their data back and then a little more time to complete Arbitron's quality assurance checks.
Speaking of panelists, with PPM they can, at least in theory, remain on the panel for two years, which would seem to guarantee two years of good ratings -- if those panelists like your station and remember to carry their meters. Recent studies, however, have shown that a person's P1 station changes over time with PPM. This means you must constantly drive to attract and keep your audience. It's still an image-based game.
While the goal is to have people in the panel for up to two years, that likely won't be the case. There is natural churn in the panel because people move, don't comply with the challenge of carrying their meter each day or decide not to continue to participate. And even those who stay in the panel often have changes in their listening patterns. One of the benefits of a PPM panel is that you can see change based on the people actually adjusting their consumption patterns. And this is not based on different people being in the survey the way they used to be with the diary. This is behavioral information vs. perceptual.
Several top programmers we contacted said they believe PPM will force stations to be more accountable and do a better job of tracking what they and their competition program and market both on and off the air. A major-market Midwestern programmer said PPM provides much more responsive ratings reflection of programming and marketing techniques -- and there's accountability involved.
Sales people believe eventually PPM will also enable stations to provide advertisers with more in-depth knowledge about their stations, thus increasing the value of the medium. We spoke with several account executives and managers who offered these thoughts about PPM. PPM will better connect retail/advertising activity to retail sales, proving its effectiveness. It will put radio on the same platform as television, improving its chance of garnering a greater share of broadcast advertising budgets. It will allow radio to compete with TV and cable for children's advertising and to program to this audience. And it will increase radio advertising revenue overall.
Being able to look at all media using the same measurement system may allow for improved media planning and buying decisions which could increase the credibility of ratings overall. And the value of radio as an advertising medium might increase by offering expanded features such as passive measurement of other media along with database integration and minute-by-minute audience flow reports
The PPM Lens
The PPM is a reality. It has a decidedly better lens for measuring today's diverse audience and observing media advertising. It is designed to focus on radio audience data, cable and television audience data, and even Internet stream audience data. This is all captured from the same respondent and integrated into a single database. Arbitron is currently including satellite providers Sirius/XM.
The PPM provides near-passive capture of minute-by-minute multimedia audience exposure in real time. Respondents do not need to recall what television show they may have been watching or what radio station they may have been listening to. They do not need to know the source of that audio stream they listened to on the office computer because the PPM does all the work.
For the first time, advertisers will be able to understand how campaign reach and frequency build -- across media and over time -- in the local market at the person's level. All television and radio ... all in one place.
Of special interest to those serving the African-American broadcasting community are the following questions:
- Will PPM deliver more accuracy and less wobble?
- How will PPM affect individual Urban format performances?
One thing all of us were hoping was that PPM would deliver more accuracy and fewer wobbles. Diary methodology has always seemed to favor AC stations and penalize Urban stations. Seemingly, one reason for this is that the female in most households typically opens the mail, fills out and returns the diaries and listens to AC stations.
Before PPM, what you had were other people filling out the diary. Typically, what we've seen with the diary were P1 listeners writing down one day that they listened all day long and on the other six that they didn't listen at all. PPM will eliminate this.
We're all curious to see what type of impact the PPM has on listeners of our genre, who are very on-the-go, active people.
On the plus side, the PPM promises to provide quicker answers to questions on whether or not a contest, promotion or new marketing ploy worked. If we have an idea to take a promotion and roll with it for a couple of months, you'll be able to check results within a few days or weeks.
We all know our own habits in an automobile where we're punching around. Now, for the first time, we have a device that actually measures that jumping around. Then, if we can match that back to the programming that took place at a particular moment, we'll be able to learn a lot about the appeal of different elements, or programs on our stations.
We need to know the enemy to conquer it. We're not saying that Arbitron is the enemy, but they are a force and they need to be better understood. Ratings suppliers such as Arbitron don't intentionally make a lot of mistakes, but you constantly have to watch out and be aware of the many call-letter, slogan, station name and frequency changes. Things can get confused and occasionally go wrong.
Re-Applying The 80: 20 Rule
We all remember the 80.20 rule -- the one that says you may eat out at a number of restaurants, but chances are that the 20% of those you frequent most often account for about 80 per cent of the outside meals you consume. It's a little different in radio because of the margins, sampling vagaries and non-response factors, but still the basic rule applies. In our case it's more like 70/30 -- meaning that about 30% of the audience accounts for about 70% of the listening.
Even though Arbitron has been audited and put more systems in place to prevent errors, they're people and people make mistakes. We need to make sure that we're getting all the credit that we deserve by understanding how to play the Arbitron game, and by forcing them to give us the benefit of the doubt when we deserve it.
For instance, by fully understanding the ascription process, you can get partial credit, simply by registering (or changing) a slogan with Arbitron that will give your station the benefit of the doubt. It would be good to establish a baseline with Arbitron. Very few stations can do this without the direction of a consultant experienced in Arbitron analyses. Having a consistent ratings review schedule is important. Any time is a good time to begin the Arbitron ratings review process, but the best time for a review is when you have your best book. It's important to know how the station is performing when it's up. The key is to make certain there's no confusion with your identifiers. Arbitron is required to edit in cases where something is listed other than call letters or exact frequencies. It also means others can claim credit.
What we don't want to do is accept the fallacy that our audience is elusive and somehow becomes a special group of listeners that Arbitron is going out of its way to avoid. Then we have to get full credit for them when Arbitron tallies up the score.
As a side bar issue, Urban stations should absolutely understand that one of the advantages of PPM is the fact that their format similar competitors may avoid a lot of hit Urban records now -- which gives Urban stations a bigger lane.
Finally, as with any new venture, we have to accept the PPM evolution for what it is and avoid anxiety. Anxiety is the false fear that can corrupt our life, limit our growth and cause us to fail. It's also the reason that organizations over-study opportunities and then hesitate to take action until it's too late.