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Portable People Meter, Part Six: Advantages, Problems, Opinions

This is the last of a series on Arbitron’s new electronic measurement, the Portable People Meter (PPM). Traditional radio, advertising agencies, HD radio, podcasting, satellite, and Internet radio, should have a clearer picture of consumer listening habits.

Portable People Meter (PPM) Advantages

PPM is potentially a more efficient way to measure media exposure/listening; it doesn’t rely on the memory of a survey participant documenting daily listening in a diary. Results from test markets Philadelphia and Houston have shown that audiences for individual stations are twice or sometimes three times larger than previously reported with diaries. There are weekly trend reports, monthly reports, and one special holiday report. More frequent data should provide increased insight into listening habits. Most important, there should be less fluctuation from report to report, and therefore additional sales opportunities. Electronic measurement will also provide broadcasters the ability to measure the new digital audio platforms, HD radio, satellite, Internet radio, and podcasting.

A Possible Problem

At-home night listening, from 7pm until midnight, presents a possible problem. When the PPM meter is docked for the night, only one more hour of listening is credited, regardless of the docking time. Although Arbitron panel relation specialists probably try to discourage docking until bedtime, the rules present the potential for a lot of non-measured listening. Remember, even docked, the microphone on the meter is always recording. Over the years Arbitron has made several adjustments to the diary measurement system; hopefully the same will hold true for Portable People Meters.

My Opinion

It is human nature to attempt conquering the unknown. When it comes to man, machines, and computers, there is no such thing as foolproof. As the Portable People Meter debuts in more markets, some programmers will discover how to manipulate the measurements.

Arbitron will address flaws in panel selection methodology and length of service by household panelists, as more cities are incorporated into the PPM process. Most likely, the least expensive and first flaw to be fixed will be panel turnover. With the diary method, there is a new group of survey participants every week, allowing more people to participate in measurement. Portable People Meter panelists can serve six months to two years, resulting in little turnover. Other than shipping equipment to new PPM panelists, there would be no other additional financial obligations. Since it is currently impossible to estimate how many persons would be eliminated due to non-compliance in a survey period, Arbitron has probably already factored in extra shipping costs.

However, a change to include the Houston selection methodology for all PPM markets would be a large extra expense Arbitron would like to avoid for as long as possible.

A positive effect of the PPM is the renewed interest of broadcasters in the sound of radio. Once again, there is an emphasis on concise, entertaining DJ’s, improved research interpretation, an effort to improve music rotations, attempts at more effective branding methods, the use of the Internet, social networks, text messaging, and anything else that might increase ratings and revenue. Radio is actually thinking about what consumers want to listen to. Hopefully, the glut of weekly minute-by-minute PPM statistics will not cause too many broadcaster knee-jerk reactions. Regardless of what some advocate, no one is a Portable People Meter expert yet.

Consider this: for years, in youth-targeted music radio, pundits insisted up-tempo songs be played at the top of each hour. This theory continued to hold sway until the industry realized that the top of the hour for listeners is whenever they decide to listen, regardless of time. So much for “Radio Experts”.

A Final Thought

People are afraid of the new, but things are forever changing, and once the dust clears, everything always settles down. Radio has survived every challenge it has faced; the Portable People Meter will be no different.

About Radio Coach Sam Weaver