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Raise your hand if your PPM ratings are based on one household

From Inside Radio:

As more markets convert to electronic measurement, programmers face a conundrum. Minute-by-minute PPM listening data for features, artist interviews and other programming elements often doesn’t square with traditional popularity indicators, such as perceptual research. That disconnect has created a friction between maximizing current ratings performance and building and maintaining a strong brand. It’s causing PDs to reevaluate benchmarks that have helped build their brands, from music features like “Mandatory Metallica” to call-in shows such as Loveline. “We had a feature that was clearly generating cume but was costing us core listeners,” Entercom active rock KRXQ, Sacramento station manager Jim Fox says. “If you were to just look at that one daypart, you might conclude that it’s hurting you. But it could create a preset on somebody’s radio that might not normally listen to your station and that ultimately could generate quarter hours in other dayparts.” 

I'm surprised this issue is arising now considering its one I focused on years ago when I created this industry presentation, called Seducing PPM.

The fundamental issue is recognizing the difference between two types of listening behavior:  

Retention vs. acquisition.

Minute-by-minute maintenance is all about retention.  While attracting new listeners – or inviting back old ones – is about acquisition.

Depending on which goal you are balancing you have a different set of tactics ahead of you (I'm not going to trudge through all the details – just watch the old presentation if you are interested).

Suffice it to say that anyone who worships the minute-by-minute Gods without building a brand worth listening to over the long haul, worth discovering, and worth returning to is a fool.

The piece goes on…

For some programmers it’s a waiting game to see if PPM results change as panelists move in and out of the panel — especially when just a handful can move the ratings needle. Arbitron says monthly panel turnover is 4-6% for panels that have been reporting less than 18 months and 6-10% for mature panels. What can be PPM negative in one quarter may be positive six months later.

In other words, don't worship today's numbers too religiously (pun intended) because there's a good chance that they'll change.  And soon.  And maybe a lot.

And that's because they're unstable.  Big changes can be manifested by one panelist with a quirky habit who suddenly appears or vanishes in the sample like a poltergeist above an ancient Indian burial ground.

When we see programmers waiting to "see if PPM results change as panelists move in and out of the panel" what we are doing is playing the panel, not playing for the audience.

Yes, I know, ratings have fluctuated at random ever since the first listener put her pencil to the first diary. But wasn't the premise behind the considerable expense of PPM both its accuracy and its stability (and stability is certainly what you need to project the appearance of accuracy)?

Indeed, the small-sample horror stories are all too easy to come by.

So build your brands.  Evolve with the happiness of your audience in mind.  And that will help buffer you from a ratings sample that is more wobbly than Lindsay Lohan's judgment.

If a "handful of listeners can move the ratings needle" then your job is to create a brand resistant to those wobbles in the real world of audiences and advertisers.

And that does not happen minute-by-minute.

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