Portable People Meter

Portable People Meter
Gary Begin/Sound Advantage Media

The Portable People Meter (PPM) is a method to measure how many people are listening to specific radio stations at any given time. It measures not only traditional AM or FM radio stations, but digital broadcasts including HD Radio, Satellite Radio and Internet Radio Stations. The PPM is worn like a smartphone, and detects hidden audio tones within a station’s audio stream, logging every time it detects such a stream. Every person who wears a PPM device is called a “panelist” by Nielsen Audio, the American ratings research company who owns PPM.

PPM has been a game changer since its inception in 2007 by Arbitron (Now Nielsen). Top of mind creation is very important in PPM markets. Not for written recall (Diaries), but for today’s listener tune-in. You must be the first choice of your audience. PPM research has shown that different dayparts bring a different audience. You must oversimplify how people listen to each quarter hour, and then generate listener events which match the listener’s routine.

In both diary and PPM markets, your radio station must possess awareness, and listeners need to know your dial position. PPM data details where people actually tune-in, and how often they return to the station. People who tune in many times during the course of the day are being titled “heavy listeners.” Stations that are number one with heavy listeners are known as a base station. The difference between P1 and PPM is founded on opinions (thoughts) vs. facts (actions). P1 shows listener preference: “what is your favorite radio station?” PPM demonstrates listener behavior: “what radio station(s) do you actually listen to?”

In a PPM universe, listeners need to turn on your station ‘first.’ It’s up to you not to lose them. In an interesting sideline, even when your audience tunes you out, it doesn’t seem to be a problem, as long as they come back often enough. You’ll notice a smaller Time Spent Listening (TSL), compromising many different tune in moments. With PPM it’s about generating occasions (listener instances) to keep your audience coming back. Cume (referring to the total number of different persons who tune to a radio station during the course of a daypart for at least five minutes) is king in the PPM world. Teasing your audience can be accomplished on-air and off-air through social media outlets such as Twitter & Facebook.

While cume has doubled in PPM measurements, there are techniques that can be used to increase TSL and AQH (Average Quarter Hour). New listeners revealed by PPM show’s they are more casual, driving down TSL for individual stations. What you actually find is an increase in average quarter-hour.

There are reasons why individual stations have shown a decrease in TSL with PPM. Casual listeners don’t listen to the radio station as often. When their lower TSL is factored in, it reduces overall time spent-listening. PPM measurement also eliminates rounding that occurred in diary entries. Everyone who’s ever seen a diary has noticed a pattern where a listener would write down a start time and then draw an arrow through the day. PPM only records when a listener is exposed to the encoded signal.

The PPM reveals listeners listening to more stations. That means individual listener TSL to radio is spread thinner. There’s something else broadcasters will have to get used to; new terms for TSL. The new terms are “Average Time Exposed” (ATE) for daily TSL, and “Averaged Weekly Time Exposed” (AWTE) for weekly TSL.

The Portable People Meter solves problems that have plagued diary-based measurement for years. Diaries measure recall, biasing results toward top-of-mind stations. PPM measures actual exposure while capturing instances of listenership that diaries miss. Diaries are filled out by a much smaller percentage of respondents during any given week. PPM measures a complete sample (albeit small) every week. In theory, this should add stability to the results while allowing stations the ability to check ratings for specific one-time events.

Not all broadcasters are sold on the PPM technology. It’s been observed that tiny PPM panel changes produce wild fluctuations in ratings, raising questions about the veracity of the methodology and—unfairly—the effectiveness on an industry that all too often depends upon it.

PPM has taught Radio Programmers three important lesions:

1. Remove damaging content

Damaging or terrible content chases away listeners into the hands of your competitors that are offering a better product. Don’t do a bad interview at the wrong time. That’s a big tune-out!

2. Teasing is essential

When there’s an on-air event transition there’s a susceptibility, such as going from music to spots or even song to song. Apart from sound and well-testing content (such as playing favorite songs), teasing is essential to building and not losing your audience. Hold people to the party as long as possible. As a song ends, say what’s coming up. Think who has just joined your audience: use one line resets after a song or break to review and introduce the topic for them.

3. Create listener obsession

Prompt the listeners as to why they tuned-in: highlight your content, such as music, contests, news, benchmarks and personalities. Remind your audience how to use the station: construct a way that will make people listen longer right now (“Your chance to win concert tickets for Elton John coming up in ten minutes”).

Encourage listeners to tune in tomorrow or later in the week: creating future tune-in occasions (“Listen tomorrow morning at 7:20 for your next opportunity to win”).
Commercial stopsets will ‘recycle’ your audience. Commercials will in-fact, turn your listeners away. But by the end of the commercial break, a whole new group of users come back waiting for what’s next. If you give your listeners a reason to stay, they usually will if there’s some specific interesting program content after the ad break.

Train your audience that at the end of the spot break, there’s a great feature such as a Music City Minute they won’t want to miss. Or some other feature you come up with, depending upon your format. You’ll notice a kind of cycling through of listeners. PPM research offers great insight into the audience attention span. The analysis will guide you on how to lessen your commercial breaks during certain quarter hours.
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