Category Archives: Portable People Meter

Does Portable People Meter undercount radio city?

The debate over fixing inaccurate radio ratings continues. Arbitron has been attempting to roll out a new electronic, pager-sized device called the Portable People Meter that would accurately measure which radio stations panelists listen to.

The PPM picks up an inaudible signal from the radio to record exact listener habits. This is an important move for radio, because for decades media planners have had to rely on diaries from audience samples … known to be inaccurate. In the past, a panelist might write “I listened to Country Station X all morning” … but the PPM captures the fact that user changes the dial.

Yes. Probably when a commercial comes on.

The PPM has been getting flack from major radio networks because it has found many radio stations have lower ratings than previously thought. If users skip around, they listen to more stations for less time. And few analysts are commenting, but it is obvious the trigger that drives a radio listener to change the dial is a long commercial block — meaning the “ratings” for a commercial are even lower than the official numbers.

Now, lawsuits from the attorneys general of New York and New Jersey complain the new PPM device also undercounts minority listeners, which hurts the ratings of urban stations and thus the revenue they can command from advertising. The suits claim Arbitron under-represents minorities because it only recruits research panelists from homes with regular phone land lines, and many minorities in urban markets only use cell phones.

Not sure when this dispute will end, but for now, take all radio ratings with a grain of salt. Your best bet? When you spend on radio, set up your own system to measure the results.

Photo: Thomas Hawk

Don Imus ratings down. Don Imus ratings up.

Consumer shifts in media usage have every outlet scrambling to redefine how they are measured. Now, the measurement baloney over in print is starting to seep into radio.

Take Don Imus. Crain’s NY Biz reports that the WABC-AM Imus In the Morning show has a 1.5 audience share among adults 25-54, down 17% from last year. At first glance, this is bad news for the once-Nappy morning jock, putting Imus into 18th place. Boomer & Carton, a new show on WFAN, has surged ahead to 5th place.

But among adults 35-64, Imus’ share is 3.1 and up 24% over last year. And a VP for WABC’s parent claims new Portable People Meters — hard-wired survey devices that replace today’s current paper diary surveys and pick up inaudible signals from the radio to measure every second of listening — show Imus also beats WFAN in the A25-54 category.

So whom do you believe? Well, no one. Media planning requires forecasting, and such ratings can give you direction on which outlets to build into the plan. But the only way to measure results is to measure results; use 800 tracking numbers or unique URLs or calls to action on the radio that push the consumer to Google trackable keywords.

With all the ruckus on the radio, you need more than forecasts; you need measurement.

When web ad measurement fails, build a ruler

We’ve been critical about broadcast, outdoor and print media measurement systems lately … but at least there is one ruling body in each of those media that tries to establish standards. A new report says the lack of consistency in online measurement may be scaring some advertisers away from internet advertising, especially as web media continues to evolve into video, widgets, and social media apps. This is ironic, because the web is awash in data … but often not all of the numbers add up.

For example, one standard of web audience is “unique visitors.” But if a user deletes the cookies on his computer, he comes back as a new unique visitor each time … so John Doe, battling viruses on his Windows PC, may get counted over and over again inflating a web site’s traffic report. “Uniques” also do not account for the same viewer logging in from different computers.

This is more than a nit: unique visitors are the baseline of a web site’s audience, the equivalent of reach in traditional media planning. If reach is off, what else could be?

Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, put it: “Marketers want to know, If I take $10 out of TV and put it into online, am I getting $10-plus back?”

The cold hard truth is the advertising industry has been riddled with inflated metrics for years, and as the data systems get better (driven by the attempt to keep up with the flow of data from the web), a lot of old-school Emperors are going to realize they are wearing no clothes. Media can work, but only if you base your media plans on reality. If the reality is teenagers are leaving radio to listen to MP3s, let’s count it, and deal with it, not hide facts. If the reality is newspaper circulations are down, let’s not make up bogus “readership” claims based on passalongs, because that does an advertiser little good.

The only real solution we see is for marketers to bypass the competing claims by setting up measurement of inbound responses. If a marketer spends $10,000 on one outlet, and can track with accuracy that 200 responses came in, she will know the cost per response was $50 in that particular media. If another media option drives a response at $25, then that’s a better deal. As media options continue to proliferate, each channel will inflate and defend its own metrics, and silly claims will continue to rise. If you want the truth about advertising, measure it yourself.

Radio networks protest, so we still can’t hear the truth

Today’s youth are consumed with MP3 players, mobile phones, video games, Facebook and YouTube. So if you asked a parent if she thinks today’s youth spend less time with radio, the answer would be … duh. Yes.

Unfortunately, a new system that accurately tracks radio ratings remains under fire from the Clear Channel networks of the world, and Arbitron continues to delay its rollout in major U.S. markets. Mediaweek reports this week that the delay in the new radio measurement system — the Portable People Meter or PPM — is causing many marketers to question whether PPM is effective.

All of this is really, really sad. We’ve noted before that PPM is a brilliant device. It replaces diaries to record radio ratings by tracking a signal broadcast from each radio station, and can tell if a listener switches channels. For about four decades, radio ratings were based on a survey participant filling out a journal — now, we finally get the real deal.

The PPM ratings are active in Houston and Philly, and the early results have shaken the radio industry by finding — gasp! — ratings are falling for some segments of the youth set. So, predictably, Clear Channel and other radio nets protested that sample sizes were off, blah blah blah, and Arbitron, who runs PPM, went back to the drawing board.

As Mediaweek notes, no matter how Arbitron rethinks the sample sizes, some radio stations are going to get whammed with lower ratings. And the overall trend cannot be masked. Marketers should push Arbitron to get PPM to market. Radio remains a viable medium, but without accurate data and ratings, the radio industry as a whole will disappoint its clients who are measuring real results.

Arbitron delays rollout of accurate radio ratings

The Portable People Meter is an interesting device — it’s a little cell-phone sized gadget that allows the ratings group for radio to accurately record the exact station a consumer is tuned into. This meter picks up a signal from the radio station, and replaces diaries as an exact way to track radio ratings.

And guess what — as the new PPM system is unrolled in markets, radio ratings are tanking. It seems consumers skip around the dial more than previously thought, and while journals didn’t always capture the truth (say, someone might write in they listen to Howard Stern for 2 hours in the morning), the PPM device doesn’t lie (the consumer may actually change the dial during commercial breaks). Ratings in many markets are down by as much as 30%. Ratings were so startling low, in fact, that Arbitron launched a PR campaign trying to convince media planners that 70 of the new PPM GRPs were as good as 100 of the old ones.

Now, Arbitron is delaying the rollout of the PPM due to controversy over the new ratings results. A lot of networks don’t seem to like the truth. Clear Channel, Radio One, Cumulus, and Cox Radio have protested — because younger demographic groups, in particular minorities, have lower ratings with the new accurate PPM systems. Young audiences are a particularly sweet target for advertisers, and if their ratings fall, ad revenue will dry up.

There are only two ways this can break. Either the truth is young people don’t listen to radio as much as they used to, and instead use MP3s and cell phones to communicate (duh), or the electronic monitoring system has flaws in technology or sample sizes (uh-huh). We don’t know the truth, but we do predict when it arrives, the truth will set radio ratings free.

Arbitron reports the new PPM should be in eight of the nine delayed markets, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, by September 2008. For now, PPM is only active in Houston and Philadelphia.