Opposing views on PPM


Non-commercial KCRW-FM Los Angeles tells the FCC that everything that is wrong with Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM) has befallen KCRW and that its data cannot be trusted. Meanwhile, Entercom says the Commission should stand down, that an FCC probe of PPM will hurt radio at a time the industry can least afford it.

“KCRW is a canary in the coal mine,” wrote Will Lewis, Management Consultant for the station licensed to Santa Monica College. “All that’s wrong with Arbitron’s Portable People Meters seems to have converged on one station.”

His filing with the FCC notes the station’s much higher ratings under diary measurement, its online audience success and fund-raising success.

“So why can’t Arbitron’s PPMs accurately measure KCRW’s audience? Experts at the Radio Research Consortium (distributors of PPM data to the noncommercial system) believe that mixed-format stations don’t fare well under PPM. KCRW broadcasts a mix of NPR news magazines, cultural programming and eclectic music,” Lewis wrote.

“We believe the biggest reason KCRW is under reported is the difficulty in the recruitment of individuals willing to commit to wearing the meters for two years. Busy, influential professionals would commit to filling out a diary for 1 week – but not to carrying around a meter for two years. We also believe that the panel is too small to represent the listening habits of 12,048,000 potential listeners accurately,” Lewis told the FCC. He noted that the LA market had some 7,000 diary keepers, compared to a PPM panel of about 2,590.

KCRW urged the FCC to put pressure on Arbitron to correct problems with how it selects the panel, the size of the panel and its management of the panel for compliance. And it also pressed the case for PPM to be accredited in each market by the Media Rating Council.

“Until this happens, broadcasters, advertisers and the public simply cannot trust the numbers,” Lewis said.

Taking the opposite side, Entercom CEO David Field wrote in support of PPM and urged the FCC not to pursue any investigation.

“In today’s highly competitive advertising environment, may of our important customers are demanding electronic audience measurements systems that provide them with richer, more timely and more detailed listener information. The PPM system is the best electronic radio audience measurement system currently on the markjet and is a product that we must adopt in order to satisfy our customers and remain competitive with other media,” Field wrote.

“We are confident that Arbitron is working to improve the service and will continue to do so in the future. If the FCC were to take steps that have the effect of discouraging PPM measurement as a technology, it would put radio at a considerable competitive disadvantage compare to other media that have embraced electronic measurement. Impeding the implementation of PPM would hurt radio economically at a time when we can least afford it. We urge the FCC to decline to further pursue its investigation into the PPM measurement system,” Field concluded.   

RBR/TVBR observation: Comments are due today in the FCC Notice of Inquiry. We will be interested to see if someone manages to come up with a law to cite that appears to give the FCC any authority over broadcast ratings.