How real people deal with real PPM's


We finally have some answers to questions that people have been asking about Arbitron’s Portable People Meter measurement system since well before the first PPM markets began operation. Truly groundbreaking research by Coleman Insights found that PPM does, indeed, report radio listening that the people carrying the devices are not even aware of. But while that exposure that would never have been reported in a diary drives up cume tallies, the overwhelming amount of time that panelists are reported listening to radio by PPM they really are listening to the radio – and almost always to a small number of favorite stations.

“Chasing incidental listening can cause more harm than good,” said Coleman Insights President Warren Kurtzman. He advises stations to focus on catering to their P1 listeners and not try to chase cume by becoming too broad in their appeal.

“Real PPM Panelists Tell All” was a study made possible by Arbitron permitting Coleman Insights to contact participants as they came off of PPM panels in New York, Philadelphia and Houston. Individual meter data, which is not made available to stations, was used to study in an in depth manner the radio exposure reported by PPM for each of the 30 or so former panelists interviewed by the Coleman researchers.

The study identified three distinct levels of listening reported by PPM: 1) Invisible listening, where the person carrying the meter has no awareness of the radio station whose encoding is being picked up; 2) Incidental listening, where they are listening to a station that they didn’t choose (“I hear it, but you’re not interested in it,” one man said of the rap station his son has on as they work together); and 3) Intentional listening, where the PPM panelist is listening to a radio station because they want to hear the programming.

Gasps could be heard in the audience when Kurtzman  put up a slide showing that for the small number of people studied, invisible listening accounted for 50% of cume, incidental 19% and intentional 31%. “Those numbers may freak you out a bit,” he noted.

However, when it comes to actual minutes of listening, the numbers are very different – and much better for broadcasters. Invisible listening was a mere 5%, incidental 18% and intentional listening a whopping 77% of the time the panelists had spent with radio.

“The key to success in PPM is driving intentional listening,” Kurtzman told the audience of radio broadcasters. That means focusing on the people who listen a lot – the P1 and P2 listeners.

The study found virtually no evidence of PPM panelists finding a new station by scanning the dial. They tended to use presets and stick with them. Where people had begun listening regularly to a new station it was because of something like a billboard or because a station already on their presets had been re-formatted and they liked what they heard.

Don’t get fooled into believing that external marketing should play a smaller role under PPM measurement, Kurtzman said. “People are not stumbling upon radio stations.”

Coleman also gathered a lot of information about how the former panelists reacted to Arbitron and the process of participating in a PPM panel. Yes, being paid was a major factor. “Free money…are you serious?” was one woman’s reaction. (People were also paid for participating in the Coleman Insights interviews.) Once people agreed to participate, there was an overall sense of commitment to carry the meters. Most people took the attitude that they had agreed to do it, they were getting paid to do it, so they were going to keep their end of the bargain.

Most of the participants said they were comfortable carrying the meter, although there was a general consensus that an even smaller device would be better. “People thought I was behind the times because I was carrying a beeper,” said one man.

Participants did admit to some deviation from Arbitron’s request that they carry the meter from the time they get out of bed until they go back to sleep at the end of the day. There was quite a bit of variance on when people first took their meter out of the docking station in the morning. Some said there were situations where they couldn’t carry the meter. One young woman noted that there was no place to put it on a dress when she was going clubbing. There were also admissions that family members had accidentally carried each other’s meters – and worse. “My mom would take mine whenever I forgot it,” said one young woman.

People also tired of carrying the meter after a period of time. “It became kind of tedious,” said one man. Arbitron removes a household from the PPM panel when one participant exhibits poor compliance with carrying the meter. Several of the people interviewed indicated that their family had been removed from the PPM panel because a single person didn’t want to carry their meter anymore, while the rest of the family was still gung-ho.

Panelists had good things to say about their frequent contacts with Arbitron staffers. They appreciated the calls to check up on them if they had not been carrying their meter regularly.

In addition to the money, people said they liked participating because it made them feel “special” and they liked the idea that collecting their listening data was an opportunity for their opinions to be heard. “It was an awesome experience,” said one woman.

“This was a very positive report card for Arbitron,” said John Boyne, Vice President of Coleman Insights.

A summary of the study’s complete findings is being posted today on the research company’s website, An on-demand version of the NAB Radio Show presentation, featuring audio and video of the interviews with PPM panelists will be available on the website in October, Coleman Insights said.

RBR/TVBR observation: This was great stuff – exactly the kind of information broadcasters need to really get a handle on how PPM works differently from the diary. We were particularly struck by the blank stares from the former PPM panelists when they were asked about stations they were not conscious of ever having been exposed to. But it was also reassuring to hear them talking in depth and passionately about the station or stations that they were very aware of listening to – their favorite radio stations. The intimate relationship that radio has with its listeners is very much alive in the PPM world.