Arbitron officials said last week that they are working to replace households classified as poor responders in its first two markets using Portable People Meters (PPM) for radio ratings and that it is taking longer than expected. It is a "continuous learning curve," said Arbitron CEO Steve Morris in a conference call with RBR/TVBR and other trade press. "First of all, the audience data for Philadelphia and Houston are statistically valid and they are remarkably stable month to month. Second, some of the underlying metrics of in-tab sample size, overall and in specific hard-to-recruit demo cells, are below where they should be. Weighting brings the audience measurement numbers back into line, but we can and we will improve these internal metrics over time so that we can minimize the need for weighting. The third headline is that there are specific actions that we have been taking, starting in the last couple of months, as the patterns of panel composition have become more clear, and from here on out you will see us on a program of continuing improvement. It’s never going to be perfect, but as with the diary, we will keep getting better," Morris said.
Arbitron Chief Research Officer Bob Patchen said the company expects to be back to the full sample size by the end of September for Philadelphia and by early October for Houston. It’s a trade off, he said – booting out households with poor compliance on carrying PPMs reduces the sample size while it improves the proportionality of the sample, which has been a high priority for broadcasters.
The other big concern has been adjustment by agency buyers to the new PPM metrics. In broad terms, Arbitron President of Sales and Marketing Pierre Bouvard said that’s changing 100 points GRP under diary to 70 points under PPM. He said it is now a top priority for Arbitron to get to media planners, since all of the top 10 markets will be on PPM measurement by the end of next year. He suggested that buys are still being made in Houston and Philadelphia under media plans drawn up last year before PPM was taken into consideration, so he says there has been a one-year shakeout period.
TVBR observation: For those of you in LPM markets, is this a bit of déjà vu? Is there now going to be a one-year shakeout period in every top 10 radio market, with buyers trying to pay 70% of what they should be paying? You can’t blame them for trying. Rate integrity is already a big problem in radio, and worse in some of the largest markets than elsewhere. A lot of education is going to be needed for media planners and buyers, but then radio stations are going to have to stand firm on rates so that they are not paying 65% more for a new ratings system that reduces the value of their inventory by 30%. Ouch!