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.