It seems like the Portable People Meter has been with us forever. But the reality is that PPM celebrates its 10th anniversary next year. And throughout all this time, we – along with Nielsen – are still trying to figure it out. That's why it's always great to get that refresher course from people who have made it their career calling to understand the PPM methodology and how it applies to programming.
In the case of Paul Douglas, manager of radio and ratings research for the Cox Media Group, becoming a “ratings whisperer” was not in the original plan. Paul came into radio as a news and programming guy, spending his early years in New Haven and Hartford, and later Atlanta. He moved into Cox Radio Syndication in the late 90’s, but then made a career shift around the time PPM came to market.
His reasoning was that a new ratings methodology in a company like Cox would present a challenge to programmers, sellers, and managers. Paul made it his mission to go to school on PPM, becoming an expert in the ratings methodology. Today, he's a great resource person in his company, calming frayed nerves as the weeklies and monthlies roll out, but also sounding the alarm when he sees the danger signs in the ratings. Combined with his programing background, he's a real asset to CMG.
In today's “Guest List,” Paul shares his key insights gleaned from years of maneuvering through PPM data, helping us better understand the metrics that matter and what they mean to radio pros. – FJ
Nielsen estimates are just that – “estimates” – a snapshot in time, They should never be looked at as perfect or absolute. One just has to look back to the election as an example where the majority of polls both nationally and in many battleground states predicted Hillary Clinton would be the 45th President.
Nielsen estimates are one tool programmers depend on to help determine whether the audience is engaged with a station’s content, but it is not the be-all and end-all factor. Along with perceptual research and music tests, the ratings are the science used to help make us the best we can be.
But the art is critically important as well. What’s in your “gut”, does it feel right, are you willing to step out of your comfort zone, be bold and unafraid to take risks? The combination of science and art – really listening to your audience – has never been more important as programmers struggle to understand and deal with ratings wobbles and the pressures of competing not only with market compression and other stations, but all the other choices now available to Millennials and everybody else.
With that in mind, here are five things to look for in Nielsen PPM data to help put it all in perspective:
1. Look beyond “share.”
Share is a zero-sum game. The pie is always 100% so dropping a few tenths in market share or even rank position doesn’t mean week to week or month to month the station has lost audience. Keep track of station AQH in your key demos and often the picture will look different…and better.
2. Weight it out.
Get to know your listener’s PPMV (Persons Per Meter Value) and Nielsen weighting and how it compares to your competition. All too often, less than a handful of panelists can move the needle in your favor or against you. The results typically have little or nothing to do with programming changes or stealth marketing activities.
3. P1’s are not created equal.
In addition to (or instead of) tracking the percentage of a station’s cume audience that are loyalists, keep an eye on high listening threshold listeners. These are the folks generating the most quarter hours of listening. Many P1’s turn out to be light radio listeners. Although they may listen to one station more than another, their quarter-hour contribution to a station’s success is minimal.
4. Cume insulates.
Your cume is the best defense against roller coaster rides, especially in determining how well a station converts its bigger weekly cume into daily listeners. A large daily cume number and higher time spent listening equate to “stickiness” and better performance in achieving higher AQH. Have a look-see at how the station performs on a daily basis versus the competition because in PPM, every day matters.
5. Aggregate, aggregate, aggregate.
While PPM gives us the ability to determine how a station performs in any quarter-hour of any given day, the more we slice and dice meters, the less reliable the data becomes. Time is our friend, so make it a point to aggregate meters. Look well beyond a week or a month or even two months, and widen the view. Calculate the percentage differences over longer time periods – up or down – to better understand what’s really going on in your ratings.
Yes, it is a meter game in PPM which is why too much focus on those little gadgets and not enough attention on the listener’s experience is dangerous. I don’t remember ever seeing a meter walk into a dealership and drive away with a brand new car.
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Clark Smidt says
Thank you Fred & Paul! Connected with Connecticut since ’66, this commentary hits home. Quickies: 1. Nelsen should publish top line share & cume for ALL stations for credible comparison . 2. PPMV is flawed by sample size. Same respondents keep meters much longer than diaries. I’ve heard PPM wearing dogs with radios playing at home qualify for paid credit. 3. Even small sample weekly cume stats would be helpful. Xmas, baseball & new hip-hop show up. 4. Listener Experience is The Secret Sauce. Art & Gut, aka Innovation/Curation/Creativity are no-cost line items. Meters & Metrics don’t buy; real people do. Safe weekend, stay warm. Clark, http://www.broadcastideas.com
Fred Jacobs says
There’s a lot of moving parts to PPM, as we’ve come to know. Thanks for bringing up these issues, Clark.
Lee Cornell says
Exactly FRED, recognising and keeping perspective on the fact that NIELSEN PPM is just an ESTIMATE extrapolated out from a term “panel” measurement, against the market or region listener profile, is essential. Having said that, radio has to live with the vagaries of this methodology, if it wants to be a part of the market’s media revenue pie-buy, as it is the “accredited” methodology and metric.
Getting a deeper understanding of your audience, their user habits, and “active” layers, with real-time efficacy, is now a reality when you add analytics arrays such as VERITONE ONE into the equation. ESPN, CBS, CUMULUS, BONNEVILLE, iHEART are now in this space, alongside their PPM or DIARY NIELSEN data gather, and other digital/social analytics.
Fred Jacobs says
Thanks, Lee. Metrics is increasingly an integral part of the conversation that can help radio make its case. Appreciate the comment.
Curt Krafft says
Let’s say I take my teenage daughter to the mall and we go to her favorite clothing store. I’ve got my PPM meter on. The store is blasting music from a station that I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to. But the meter doesn’t know that and registers that I’m listening. Suppose I get a lift from someone. And as we all know the driver usually controls the radio. They are listening to a station that I NEVER listen to. But the meter doesn’t know that. You see what I’m getting at? The PPM meter system is flawed and does not always present an accurate account of what stations “I” listen to. I’m not saying the diary system is great but I trust it a lot more than a meter that doesn’t care whether I’m listening or not.
Fred Jacobs says
Curt, they’re both severely flawed. The diary is rarely filled out in real time, exaggerating listening to core stations, while diminishing others. And yes, the meter measures a lot of incidental or unintended listening. As Paul notes early on in his “Guest List,” both Arbitron and Nielsen don’t run away from the “These are estimates” caveat. Broadcasters should be wary of the inaccuracies, and conduct their own research to help determine whether a station or personality are reaching their goals. Thanks for contributing to the conversation and reading our blog.