PPM strikes back

This note, from John Snyder, Arbitron’s VP PPM sales, is in response to my earlier post on the subject.

Some of John’s points are addressed in the podcast posted yesterday (listen for yourself).

I’ll print a reply from Media Audit when I receive it.

John’s comments are edited for brevity.

Mark, your point regarding Smartphone penetration is an interesting one. As I understand it, Smart phones operate on the 3G high-speed wireless network. According to a February 2006 study conducted by M Metrics (a leader in research for the wireless/mobile industry) currently only 1.9% of the U.S. utilizes the 3G network. Smart phones are also not inexpensive. Right now even the most basic units carry a several hundred dollar price tag. This is not a device the average consumer can yet afford, which is also a contributing factor in the low adoption of the technology.

Media Audit/IPSOS is suggesting that “piggy backing” software onto the hardware of current Smartphone owners is plausible and cost effective solution to radio audience measurement. As I understand it, the basic concept being: utilize existing owners’ cell phone hardware and thus save the expense of deploying meters to survey participants. (And the savings would be passed on to the radio industry, or so the argument goes.) Compelling concept, but the reality is that there are currently very few Smartphone owners here in the U.S. For the foreseeable future, research based on this platform will necessitate providing Smartphone hardware to survey participants en masse. Admittedly, Smartphone technology will become more prevalent in time, and as the prices drop, penetration will undoubtedly increase. But in the meantime, the suggestion that “piggy backing” on the hardware of current Smartphone owners will amount to any appreciable cost savings, is an unfounded and probably inaccurate claim. If or when Smartphone penetration reaches a large enough portion of the US if will be decades (if ever) that it makes-up a representative sample of the US.

PPM as a single application “monitor” vs. cell phone with its multi-purpose capabilities: You raise another interesting issue regarding PPM’s single application as a media usage “monitor.” Over the last decade of developing PPM and the panel management procedures, we have exhaustively fine tuned the incentive program to motivate panelists to carry the meter every day. Without boring you with the nuances of the incentive program, it is essentially built on a “points” system, not all that dissimilar to a frequent traveler program. If you carry the meter, you collect points redeemable for cash. The more points, the more cash and prizes. In re-interview studies of PPM panelists, the majority say that the point system was a key motivator in their continued participation. If you question whether this approach really works, just think for a moment about why you chose a particular airline, hotel or credit card. Americans are obsessed with “points” and respond particularly well to this as an incentive program.

Arbitron views PPM’s sole function as a media monitor as an inherent strength of the methodology. PPM doesn’t suffer from the pitfalls associated with cell phone integration. Unlike a phone, the PPM can’t be shut off and is unlikely to be shared with a friend. No need to worry about how the survey may be affected when a parent gives their phone to their child (as is commonly the case) as a safety measure or just to keep tabs on them. Media Audit makes the argument that cell phones are part of our culture and an item with which we are personally connected. I would agree with that statement. I love my cell phone. But how many folks do you suppose will be willing to give up their phone for a different, foreign one. One that is probably more complicated, in all likelihood doesn’t have their old phone number, and won’t have their contact directory programmed into it and one that you will have to give back at some point? Will this reluctance to change phones potentially skew the sample? Media Audit claims that respondents are more likely to carry a cell phone on a continual basis than they would be other types of meter devices. But again, no empirical data is offered to support their assumption. In contrast, the full-scale testing Arbitron has done in Philly and Houston shows that panelists are carrying the meter for an average of nearly 15 hours per day. In Canada, where PPM is now actively being used to measure TV and the same level of carry time compliance. The fact is that panelists do carry the PPM for the majority of their waking hours.

Smart phones as Handheld Gaming Devices, MP3 Players, etc. One of the more curious arguments made in support of the smart phones by Media Audit is that these devices are much more likely to be used to play games, listen to MP3s, watch video, and consume information on-line. Documented research in this particular case, does indeed support this conclusion. But unfortunately, conventional wisdom from many in the research community suggests that by integrating and potentially introducing new entertainment options into a survey participant’s life, you may actually be changing their media consumption behavior. This is the very definition of survey bias. It’s kind of like if you were to give a household broadband access for their internet connection with the hopes of getting a better understanding of their web surfing habits. Studies show that high speed access completely changes their internet usage behavior and their former “habits” completely go out the window. I have a tough time believing that the radio industry would stand for biasing their samples with panelist(s) whose new MP3 player or video download capability will be vying against radio for their media usage moment. Additionally, a recent Bridge Ratings study found that people who own a cell phone are more likely to NOT listen to radio while in the car. So besides giving panelists a phone with which they can now make calls while in their car, Media Audit is suggesting it should also be bundled together with whole bunch of other neat entertainment options to consume everywhere else.

Here are a few additional top-of-mind questions I would have the industry consider in the PPM vs. cell phone debate and I welcome your reactions to these and any other important questions:

Will some Americans resist taking a new cell phone from some “research company” because of the unauthorized wiretapping hubbub that’s been in the news lately? Will there be concerns that the phone is recording conversations while it records radio listening?

Are younger demos more likely to have their phone with them (and turned on) more so than older demos, thereby introducing a sample bias?

What happens when the phone is turned off for extended periods – which is not an uncommon occurrence and is downright prevalent in the 35 and older demos. Is that listening lost?

What happens when the phone is charging ? Will respondents really stay with the phone while it’s charging?

Is the phone able to record radio listening while in use either as phone, or internet access device or whatever else?

What is the incentive to carry the phone, free minutes? What happens when those minutes are used up? Who pays for the extra time used? Would phones be passed around a household based on who has minutes left to burn?

Will some respondents fear taking a phone because of liability concerns?

Do consumers typically carry their cell phone with them when they are at home?

What happens if there is no cell coverage, does the listening get lost?

Media Audit describes their encoding solution as “open source software.” Does this means there can be no security or control in the distribution and management of media codes. Is there a maximum number of signals that can be encoded in a market?

These are important questions that really need to be answered.

[Listen to yesterday’s podcast for the answer to some of them].

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