Re-Positioning Urban Radio
May 15, 2012
PPM Has Forced A Needed Change
Despite the fact that in 2012, we're time-strapped and cost-conscious, there are still ways to increase our listenership. There is an especially good opportunity to score -- if you know the PPM secrets of re-positioning.
Urban broadcasters have long had concerns about PPM and how it affects their formats. PPM has forced a needed change in strategy. In fact, accurate measurement of Urban radio is one of the most critical issues facing today's Urban decision-makers in those markets measured by the meter. It impacts everything from our ability to compete for audience and advertising budgets, to how talent is compensated. It can even conceivably affect what kind of future talent Urban radio will be able to attract and retain.
Many Urban programmers have complained to Arbitron that PPM methodology showed deficiencies in the recruitment, retention and participation of the sample panel; these deficiencies have resulted in a significant under-representation of the younger African-Americans in the PPM results.
Others say that Arbitron's PPM is a mirror that distorts actual listening and makes it possible for a declining industry to appear to be growing. These same critics claim that since a meter wearer just has to come in contact with an encoded signal for that station to get credit for their listening even if they were driving by, jogging by or didn't even realize that a station was on, is a problem. Arbitron's goal should be to make the audience measuring process more transparent and reliable along with providing an unbiased playing field for all participants. Providers of technological solutions are best served by an informed and enfranchised user base.
Another thing that affects ratings under PPM is turnover. Arbitron is currently experiencing approximately eight percent turnover of panelists per month. Panelists leave for a variety of reasons: They can move; they may not comply and so Arbitron asks them to leave. They choose to no longer participate, or they are routinely rotated out of the panel after 24 months of participation.
And don't forget the "six out of seven rule." In order for a panelist's media exposure to be included in Arbitron's weekly audience estimates, he or she has to be included as "in-tab" for at least six out of the seven days of the survey week. In order to be in-tab for a day, the age 18+ panelists must have carried the meter for at least eight hours (the minimum requirements for sub-teens and teens is five hours.) Or it is possible for a panelist to contribute media exposure for a day, but not be included in the weekly estimate. Crediting rules will report listeners in weekly estimates if they listen six out of seven days in a week. However, daily listening will still be credited for each of the days of the week that the station was listened to. Keep in mind, too, that with the meter, Arbitron now captures all kinds of short-duration exposures.
Someone e-mailed me a question asking about the parameters for keeping a panelist in the study that I wanted to share. The question was when a panelist is consistently "non-compliant" (meaning not meeting the daily required movement time of five or eight hours) will they be allowed to continue? The answer is no. If they don't meet the required daily movement time, they will be removed from the panel. When new panelists are activated, the lowest performing panelists are removed.
Fractured Listening & The Influence of Randomness
Some of you may remember that under the diary to order get credit for two quarter-hours of listening, a station had to record five minutes of listening in one quarter-hour and five contiguous minutes in the next quarter-hour. In PPM, a listener still has to listen to at least five minutes in a quarter-hour, but those minutes need not be continuous.
Arbitron is currently working on African-American and Hispanic representation and will continue to focus on getting more members of the household to participate. Future plans include boosting its cell phone sample target to 20% in the aggregate and to introduce larger promised incentives. In addition, panel quality initiatives now include in-person recruiting, address-based sampling and geo-zones. All of these measures will enable Arbitron to provide respondent-level functionality for weekly data into the PPM analysis tools.
Now let's look at statistical measures of reliability. Even if the meter were only 90% reliable, the system would still be acceptable providing the errors were distributed evenly across all programs and listeners. Errors would average out. However, a system that was 90% reliable over all program types and listening devices might have its failures concentrated in a particular intersection of programming type and listener subculture. The fallout from such a failure would be further increased by an inadequate audience sample size.
The other problem we see with PPM would be listening in a noisy environment or with the monitor positioned to receive only a muffled signal. This would increase the likelihood that the PPM would not correctly detect the station's encoded signal.
On the other hand, some programmers believe Arbitron's PPM is good for Urban radio. For one thing, they 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 followed by 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 changing their consumption and 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 southern programmer said PPM provides much more responsive ratings reflection of programming and marketing techniques and there's accountability involved.
Salespeople believe eventually it 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 eventually 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 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.
Of special interest to those serving the African-American broadcasting community are the following questions:
- Will PPM consistently deliver more accuracy and less wobble?
- How will PPM affect individual Urban format performances?
- How can PPM measured stations trust data that they are not allowed to see?
One thing all of us were hoping was that PPM would deliver more accuracy and fewer wobbles. Diary methodology has always seemed to favor some 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 saw 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 along with the "phantom cume." We're all curious to see what type of impact 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 the car 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. Ratings suppliers such as Arbitron don't intentionally make a lot of mistakes, but you have to be vigilant and be aware of the many call-letter, slogan, station name and frequency changes. Things can get confused and occasionally go wrong.
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, it's important to know how your station is really performing when it's up or down. With PPM, we can find out exactly what happened. It's very hard to find out what happened when you don't know what the base is. The key is to make certain there's no confusion with your identifiers when your station is streaming. 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 an elusive and somehow 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 sidebar 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 jams now, which gives our stations a larger lane.
Finally, for Urban and other minority-targeted formats, re-positioning our stations means adjusting for PPM and accepting the PPM evolution for what it is. Despite what we have learned, there is still much we don't know. Hopefully, we will find managers and owners who support and understand this and don't simply punish failure. Failure and risks are part of growth. Those who have had had few failures generally have not had many successes, either.