All Metered Listeners Aren't Created Equal
March 15, 2011
PPM Critical Mass
As more and more markets move from being diary-measured markets to meter markets, it's time to examine the facts and recognize that Urban radio and music remains an ethnic subculture in a lot of markets. We also have to accept the challenge of determining who our consumers really are. We need to look at all of the factors that affect ratings. Revenue is directly tied to and driven by ratings. The more ears we have to rent, the more revenue we will make.
There are stations whose goals are to recapture their Arbitron diary numbers in a PPM world. The truth is that in the PPM world, cume is king and mass is critical. What we have to do is keep the audience listening longer and returning. It's tougher with a format that isn't built on a huge cume basis. Top-of-mind awareness has become critical. And Urban AC stations now have to maintain an existing audience while growing a younger one. Some Urban Adult stations have had success with creating more of a lifestyle-friendly, fun programming approach and playing more current jams.
Share Definition Has Changed
It's important to remember that share now has a new definition. It's no longer share of radio listening, but share of encoded station listeners, or share of those who are exposed to encoded signals. For those whose markets are already measured by PPM, you've probably noticed that overall, the shares may be higher than what you were used to seeing with the diary. When you compare share against other stations, while that may be useful for competitive purposes, you might also want to consider focusing on AQH persons or ratings. Why? Because these are the estimates that really drive revenue for your station.
Next, you want to re-examine daily cume. Again, if you're in a PPM market, one of the first things you will notice is that there are now two different cume estimates, daily and weekly. While weekly cume is the estimate we're already familiar with, it actually doesn't factor in average quarter-hour (AQH) share, ratings or persons under PPM. Now you may see more bounce in your weekly cume estimates than you saw with the diary. This is due to the nature of passive electronic measurement.
PPM ratings are based on average daily cume estimates, not weekly cume estimates. When it comes to figuring out your share or your ratings, the daily cume and the daily Time Spent Listening (TSL) are used in that calculation. You should track your audience from one quarter-hour to the next. PPM estimates are much more granular than they were with diary-based estimates. That's because listeners tend to round up their listening occasions in the diary, while PPM detections show many more listening occasions, but of shorter duration. This means that tracking your audience from one quarter-hour to the next is a worthwhile exercise under PPM.
In the PPM analysis software, select ranker and run the quarter-hour by quarter-hour average persons estimates. I would strongly suggest you pick 6+ for the demo. You want to choose the largest sample size possible. That way you'll be able to see how your station changes throughout the day. Is there a pattern developing? Does the audience usually tune out at the same time? Are specific features attracting additional audience?
Here's a quick language-weighting refresher: Despite what's happening with population estimates, Arbitron remains fully committed to language weighting. Language weighting requires extensive software and compatible population estimates. Significant progress is being made on both.
Currently, Arbitron estimates are weighted on several dimensions, including age, sex, geography and race/ethnicity. Arbitron has asked about language usage among Hispanics since 1997.
Why is this important? Because language usage has a direct connection with radio listening. Language-weighting systems alone cannot handle the information. We have to look at highs and lows for Hispanic language-dominant universe estimates.
Is PPM Good Or Bad For Urban?
There are some Urban programmers who believe PPM is good for radio, while others say that while there is a need for electronic measurement, the current system has too many flaws? There have been PPM sampling issues.
I personally miss Arbitron's mechanicals. Even before PD Advantage and Maximi$er, the mechanicals showed us every diary by age, sex, county and zip code; tune-in and tune-out times for each listening episode, along with the total number of quarter-hours the person listened ... and even that person's PPDV (per person diary value.)
The mechanical has been replaced with software that provides a less visceral feel for listener behavior. In theory, 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 eventually increase radio advertising revenue overall.
Being able to look at all media using the same measurement system could make for improved media planning and buying decisions, which in turn could increase the credibility of ratings overall. The PPM 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.
PPM will get rid of phantom cume, while delivering more accuracy and less wobble. 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.
Also, on the plus side, PPM promises to provide quicker answers to questions on whether or not a contest, promotion or new marketing ploy worked. If you 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'll 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 or cume is the enemy, but they are forces that 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.
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 it is warranted.
When the ratings go down (and they will), we want to find out exactly what happened. It's very hard to find out what happened when you don't know where to go for answers.
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. Nor should we accept the mindset that says, "Poor us, our ratings are lower because our audience is harder to find, not as smart or inarticulate."
They may or may not be, but they are listeners who count and who have needs. What we have to do is determine those needs and serve them. Then we have to get full credit for them when Arbitron tallies up the score.
Finally, Urban stations should absolutely understand and sell the qualitative value of our audience. In the past, Urban stations had problems with advertising agencies believing our numbers when they were strong. And often these same agencies tried to tell us our audience had less value. The other problem comes with not being able to sort through the confusion that comes with "understanding that all meters are not created equal." Once we sort it all out though, we may discover several new opportunities on tap. And if we can take advantage of even a few of them, we can score.
Ratings success today depends on foresight, good judgment, grit, firm resolution and settled purpose. A winning radio station is not the result of chance. Neither is failure the result of bad luck. They are both just chapters in the book of meters. And, if you happen to conclude that a chapter has drawn to its logical conclusion, waste no time in beginning a new one.