Ponder a daring new technology, years in the making that could
dramatically change radio for the future. This technology is owned and
championed by a single company, and will require new equipment for
stations and for listeners, but there is no guarantee of success.
Sounds like HD Radio, right? Well, no. This futuristic tale is about
the Portable People Meter (PPM), a new technology and system that may
or may not revolutionize the way radio and other media uses are
measured. The PPM is in the last stages of several years of
field-testing, first in England and now in Philadelphia. The technology
has been used in Singapore since 2001.
The PPM is a device about the size of a pager. The survey subject
carries the device all day to detect what radio, TV and cable
broadcasts are seen or heard.
At the end of every day, the PPM holder puts his meter into a base
station cradle at home that will recharge the batteries and send the
data from the collected codes to Arbitron to be tallied. The results
can offer a minute-by-minute report of the media that was heard or seen
for the entire day.
Each measured media outlet injects inaudible markers with a unique
code into its audio stream. The PPM detects and records that code and
tallies it by time of day. As an engineering project, it seems to work,
but bringing the technology to market has been more complicated.
Relevance to stations
The latest generation of PPM encoder is a 1RU device that feeds an
inaudible signal into a station's audio path just before the audio
processor. The level of the signal that carries the code has to be set
properly, or there can be detection problems on the receiver end. This
was evidenced during tests in Philadelphia.
From the left to right, the Arbitron PPM encoder,
the PPM, the base recharger and the PPM collector, which collects the
data from the PPM and sends it via modem to Arbitron.
The other side of the equation is the listener and his PPM. The
survey subjects who receive the device would be selected for a broad
demographic sample of a market. Unlike the once-a-week paper diary,
participants would carry the PPM for as long as two years.
Once the survey participants have their PPM, it's up to them to
carry it with them wherever they go. They put it to rest at night only
to recharge the battery and download the collected data to the
Preliminary audience measurements from the Philadelphia PPM tests
showed similar shares and ratings with diary-derived estimates, but
there were some differences, too:
Cume audiences and reach were higher
Morning drive listening was lower
Time spent listening was lower
The average number of stations used was higher
More listening by young adults and men
More listening on weekends, evenings and overnight
Rewards for using the PPM
As the PPM technology unfolds, managers and sales teams may face the
biggest challenge of all: new terminology. In a real-time PPM world,
the term average quarter hour (AQH) has little meaning. Audience
measurement can now be observed to the minute.
Share becomes share of media, not just other radio stations. This
combined media comparison to cable and broadcast television and even
encoded online streaming media could be a benefit for radio.
Right now, Arbitron gives diary holders about a dollar for a
completed diary; not much of an incentive for the effort. PPM
participants will be given higher incentives and rewards to wear or
carry the device every day, all day except overnight when the PPM is
set in its cradle.
Because of the daily feedback loop, Arbitron plans to get greater
compliance by survey subjects. Technical glitches should be easier to
spot, too. And, because the PPM doesn't require a diary entry, the
potential to survey younger listeners becomes more possible. Our 12+
measurement for a cume audience would drop down to 6+.
The charger base can be placed in a convenient
Why Change to the PPM?
Companies that conduct research are having a harder time getting
people to participate. Telephone call-out surveys have higher rates of
refusal. Recruiting for focus groups and auditorium testing is getting
more difficult and more expensive.
For Arbitron, response rates to paper diaries continue to decline;
about 35 percent for radio nationwide and far less in some of the
country's largest radio markets. The few dollars handed out by Arbitron
to diary keepers seems to be less and less an incentive to complete or
return the paper diaries.
Improving the response rate and getting more precise and accurate
data are of increasing importance in our more media-cluttered world.
The drive to improve is strong enough that Arbitron and television's
Nielsen Media Research are working together closely to develop the
One concern expressed by the advertising community is that while
programming is encoded, commercials are not. Advertisers want to know
that their spots were heard. There are other concerns, too. How do you
measure bath, shower and other private listening? How will it measure
traveling listeners, who are often high-income people who spend days
and weeks away from home and their base station? What about other
people spending nights away from home? Will minority audiences be
In addition, measuring headset radio listening requires an adapter
to be plugged into a portable radio. How many people will comply? Yet,
compared to the current system of paper diaries from Arbitron with a
declining response rate, the PPM still looks to be a great
Arbitron says it will continue comparison tests in Philadelphia
through the Winter 2003 ratings period. After that, more test panels
are planned for 2003 and 2004. The 2002 plans anticipated reaching the
top 100 DMAs and 170 radio metro markets by 2008. This timetable does
not seem fixed, and it is affected in part by the status of a proposed
joint venture with Nielsen.
Estimates of additional costs for stations and advertisers have not
been made available. Implementing PPM technology will be expensive. It
is a technological change that could dramatically alter the way media
is measured. And because you become what you measure, imagine what
changes could happen to radio in the process.
Hanley is director and general manager of WDUQ-FM,