A Shocking Peek at the Real People of PPM

Who are these people who say “yes” when Arbitron asks them to carry a PPM device?

Why do they do it?  Do they follow the rules?  Do they even know it’s about radio, or do they think it’s about all media?  What do they think of the meters themselves and are they embarrassed to be seen wearing one?  Is it true that multiple households kept their meters moving by attaching them to ceiling fans?  And what should you do to target the kind of folks who are likely to be panelists?

These and many other questions are tackled in a stridently “unauthorized by Arbiron” look behind the PPM curtain featuring video interviews of several real PPM panelists, past and present.

Allen Kepler and Broadcast Architecture are the folks behind this effort, which is the first stage in a process of diving deeper into the backstory of the PPM experience.  I talked with Allen about what his research has shown, and that video is below.

This is some very hot stuff – you will need to watch this.

Be aware, of course, that while real, a small sampling of PPM panelists can only provide anecdotal findings, not something which can necessarily be generalized to all panelists.

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Here’s an executive summary of Allen’s study.

I also participated in a panel conversation about this research with other broadcasters.  That conversation will be presented here later this week.

There’s a lot of hot, maybe inflammatory, stuff discussed in this video, so a few words of introduction are in order:

First, this is not an effort to bash the PPM process or Arbitron itself.  It is in no one’s interest to do that.  Research by its nature is imperfect and acknowledging those imperfections is the first step to improving the way we do what we do for the benefit of Arbitron, broadcasters, and advertisers. Everybody – including Arbitron – wants the process to be improved.

Second, everyone needs to recognize that Arbitron is full of very talented people committed to the success of their clients and the advertisers those clients serve.  There are many good people there and their jobs are often thankless ones.  So let’s get off the “bash Arbitron” wagon and onboard the “how do we create better measurement” one.

In the long run, I think it’s important to know what motivates a PPM panelist to say “yes.”  I’ll dig into the consequences of those motivations later on.

For now, watch the video and hold on to your seat.

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  • Artiejoe52

    More than 70 thousand people are carrying meters and BA releases findings from 13? great, some of the folks whining about Arbitron's sample probably won't have the same concerns about reading too much into these findings.

  • That is the nature of qualitative research. BA is acknowledging as much. You can learn a lot by asking a small number of people their opinions. Try it with your spouse 🙂

    Mark Ramsey

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  • In light of the flood of internet audio technology (on demand streamed content, podcasts and customized listening platforms like Pandora) that personalize the listener's experience, it makes me wonder if radio isn't fading significantly as a platform. I'm a lot more comfortable with online promotion and the associated metrics that tell me a much clearer listener story than Arbitron. Shouldn't we be more thoughtful about the share of advertising money we're currently putting toward broadcast radio?
    Hope the voice is better :-).

  • You're speaking as an advertiser. And the share of money you put towards broadcast radio should be commensurate with the value that broadcast radio can provide you, and that value can be considerable, especially when tied in to digital components.

    Great radio activates reach – it doesn't simply deliver reach.

    And my voice is getting better, very slowly. Thanks!

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  • Very educational for me. Thank you.

  • Mark – Great piece, but I've got to challenge you on your long list of disclaimers about Arbitron at the end of your blog post. Arbitron is not some volunteer organization that we need to be careful not to be critical of. We are THEIR CLIENTS. We pay them HUGE sums of money to get ratings right.

    The fact of the matter is PPM is a disaster. I say that as a programmer of a station ranked Top 5 in our market.

    According to PPM in Phoenix, stations are literally losing and gaining more than 100,000 listeners in wild swings week to week with no adjustment to their content. This ratings system is an insult to people's intelligence. The numbers aren't real and Arbitron knows it.

    Arbitron needs no defending.

    The people who need defending are programers and talent whose livelihoods are held captive to this joke. Smart people won't put up with this and radio will end up the loser.

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  • Bconway

    did Alan offer a cash incentive to participate in his survey? This might be a filter that influenced the results being so cash driven

  • He did. $50. You have to pay people to bring them into a location and interview them. This is actually on the low side of what folks get paid. Nevertheless, that could have some bearing (but I doubt it).

  • I feel your pain, Russ!

    You're right, there should be lots of sympathy to go around.

  • Bill Weston

    Like Mark, I am nearly speechless at these findings!

  • I get the joke!

  • Larry Gifford

    Thanks Mark. It frightens me to think that more time will spent creating and executing contests on radio stations now to “reach” the PPM panelists instead of spending time creating and executing unique, compelling content to appeal to actual fans of the radio station.

  • That problem is as old as radio and ratings, Larry.

    In the long run, there's a game post-Arbitron. Smart broadcasters will start playing that one now.

  • Yermama

    Ironicly, my family was offered to take part in PPM exactly 2 days after I exited a station back in early 2010. So I saw it from both ends.

  • Martin Heinrich

    A 12 1/2 minute video from the people who assertively and almost singlehandedly killed an entire formerly successful format phenomenon – what some call “Smooth Jazz”, with their “research” – I'm not going to waste my time.

  • Seems to me you could have pretty easily gotten your job back 🙂

  • First, the video is from me, not from Allen.

    Second, you have Arbitron methodology and the sellers and buyers who live by it to thank for the demise of Smooth Jazz in many markets.

    Blaming anyone's research for the failure of Smooth Jazz is a reconstruction of history that never existed, in my opinion.

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  • Mehudson44

    The truth is,terrestrial radio as we know it is going to be a dinosaur in the next 5-10 years.Internet radio is the future.There will be literally thousands of choices for the listener to choose from,and with internet access available in an increasing number of new cars and aftermarket applications,it’s only a matter of time before Arbitron,Clear Channel,Radio One,etcare no longer players in the broadcast market.

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