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Do PPM Panelists Carry Their Meters?

Coleman's Advice: Focus on Core, Rather Than Incidental or Invisible PPM Listening

With the planned extension of the Arbitron Portable People Meter rollout in eight additional top markets this month, interest in the new research methodology at the recent NAB Radio Show was high.

North Carolina-based Coleman Insights released results from “Real PPM Panelists Tell All,” its fourth PPM study.

The upshot for radio managers? Don’t be distracted by the higher cume produced by the PPM’s ability to log all exposure to radio.

Cume is the total number of different listeners to a radio station — think “cumulative.”

PPM is measuring all radio exposure, not just what the listener can recall, as with diary methods. Much of the apparent cume increase is from so-called “invisible” and “incidental” exposure. Panelists said radio managers should not be distracted by this phenomenon but should keep tightly focused on core, “intentional” listeners, people who connect with radio’s brands.

Coleman Insights Chairman/CEO Jon Coleman discussed his firm’s work into PPM, which began some three years ago. The research switches from previous quantitative reports to a qualitative study that peers into how PPM data is gathered.

“We looked at behaviors of PPM panelists, not just in terms of radio stations they listen to but also how they interact with the meter itself — what they think of it, how they use it. How do all of those variables related to the PPM meter impact the ratings that our radio stations achieve?” Coleman asked.

Coleman Insights VP John Boyne and President/COO Warren Kurtzman fleshed this out with video of some 30 PPM panelists in New York, Philadelphia and Houston who were interviewed immediately after their participation in the PPM panel concluded. In general, people leave the panel after 9 to 12 months, or when they stop carrying the meter.

The first clips portrayed the positive aspects. These represented the majority — panelists who embraced a daily habit of complying with the requirements, enjoyed friendly interactions with Arbitron employees and who had no negative reaction to the meter itself.

Balancing this, others talked of the downsides of their experience: forgetting the meter, having family members carry it when forgotten, and increasing non-compliance over time. Some did not like the meter itself, self-conscious about what they saw as an outdated “beeper” appearance, or felt uncomfortable wearing it due to the design and shape.

More harm

As noted, PPM shows a far greater cume than diary research methods. What’s the impact of all this added radio exposure? The study revealed three categories of radio exposure: “invisible,” as well as “incidental” and “intentional.”

The next phase of the study confronted panelists with the information they had personally generated to give a better sense of what these categories mean. How does PPM data compare with the panelists’ experience?

Interviews with panelists showed that “invisible” exposure to a station means just that; they have no conscious recollection whatsoever, and were often surprised that they had been exposed to it at all.

“Incidental” contact, like driving while a child tunes stations, did register but they could not give any significant details about the station. “Intentional” was not just exposure to stations but actually listening and connecting to the content.

The takeaway? PPM’s big cume means little; most of this added audience isn’t really tuned in.

What does this mean for programmers?

“There’s very little you can do to influence invisible and incidental listening, you have to focus on driving intentional listening,” said Kurtzman. “Chasing after incidental listening can actually do you more harm than good.”

He suggests sticking to fundamentals: Tailor the station brand to facilitate “intentional” listening on many levels including music and personalities. External marketing, such as billboards, remain a key part of the mix in a PPM world.

PPM concerns

The Q&A following the presentation touched on recent concerns as to whether PPM accurately captures Hispanic and African-American audiences. Following on the heels of the investigation into these issues by the New York and New Jersey state attorneys general, did the study’s results give any insights?

One audience member asked whether a cultural concern for privacy, a fear of bringing “Big Brother” along with a device that records your activities, might distort data captured by Hispanic participants.

Kurtzman indicated that while privacy issues did come up, they were not dominant. The NAB presentation itself, he noted, omitted the many Spanish-language interviews in the study because the day’s presentation was crafted for an English-speaking audience. Going into more details after the presentation, Boyne noted that these issues go beyond the scope of the study.

“This is a qualitative study, and is not designed to look into these specific issues. So whatever it might suggest here isn’t definitive one way or another,” said Boyne

After the close of the session, Arbitron President, Sales and Marketing, Pierre Bouvard shared his perspective. Bouvard is now responsible for commercializing Arbitron’s PPM, but also spent six years working for Coleman Insights in the early 1990s. In his view, “Real PPM Panelists Tell All” confirmed some longstanding beliefs.

Bouvard said that for years, programmers have suspected there was a lot of so-called “phantom cume,” exposure to a station that goes unrecorded in diaries. “They were right. The classifications they pulled from the data are quite similar to how we see it — half the cume does 90 percent of the listening,” said Bouvard.

For Bouvard, one of the great discoveries from PPM is that the new methods confirm traditional ones that will remain at work in 250 markets.

“Keeping a TV diary means that responses are sprinkled across many shows. With radio, radio listeners go to favorite stations, [they] know shows and DJs. Because of this, the diary approach lends itself well to radio, as the PPH now verifies,” he said.

Coleman planned to post the full report on its Web site,