Arbitron Panelist,”F— this!”
“The first couple days I’m wearing this thing and I’m turning into radio just trying to get these points and then finally I said, ‘Well, f— this.’” – Former PPM panelist
Listen to the comments in context here.
This is a taboo topic of conversation for terrestrial radio and it would disqualify a radio station’s ratings faster than you can push “scan” when the Kars-for-Kids commercial starts up. However, it was the Top Story on Radio Stuff’s podcast. (editor’s note: Arbitron emailed their responses to our questions, so we had a British bloke voice the answers on the podcast. It’s worth a listen for that alone.)
DISCLAIMER: As a programmer, I have praised Arbitron for measuring my genius programming with precision when ratings are high and cursed them when they dropped. (Certainly there must be a sampling error, no?)
Joe v. Arbitronado
So, I sent the audio from “Joe” to Arbitron’s Director of Programming Services Jon Miller and asked him what he thought. He says it sounds like things are working the way they should.
“Arbitron has safeguards in place to help ensure the integrity of our PPM ratings. In this case, the panelist’s comments are a demonstration of some of those safeguards, such as calling households if their compliance in carrying the meter falls off.”
Caller Joe complained to Leykis:
“I started getting all these phone calls. I’m thinking you know who the hell is this calling me? We’ll it’s Arbitron. So apparently this meter has something that can tell when you’re moving and when you’re sitting still. And so when I’m not moving, they’re calling me – pretty much harassing me about why am I not wearing the meter and they can’t get accurate ratings and I need to be wearing my meter. Well, after about two weeks of this, they called me and said, “You’re not wearing the meter!” and I finally said, ‘alright, fuck this. Send me a box and I’m sending all this shit back.’”
Miller wouldn’t go so far as to characterize the company’s behavior as harassment, but the calls are part of the quality control.
“Arbitron monitors compliance with its instructions, contacts households who aren’t complying and works with them to improve their carry habits whether through coaching or other incentives.”
The 2010 Broadcast Architecture study on PPM panelists talked to one woman who clipped her meter to a ceiling fan, Joe plopped it down in front of a radio, and I’ve heard that others have attached them to pets. So, Jon Miller, how do you know when a panelist is cheating.
“The PPM has a motion detector built into it allowing us to capture both the motion records and media exposure from that day. There are thresholds for how many hours of motion a day we require for our panelists to be counted in the days ratings, and the more they wear the meter the more incentives they receive.”
And then there’s sample size. It wasn’t brought up by the caller, but it is commonly heard uttered in anger and echoing through the hallways outside PDs offices.
“PPM’s sample sizes are designed to deliver the same level of statistical reliability as the Diary survey, but with less total sample. We accomplish that by surveying listeners for a much longer period of time (28 days in just one PPM survey month) compared to the one-week diary timeline. This level of detail, thousands and thousands of days of measurement across a single month, allows us to see so many granular things with PPM data that we just can’t with the Diary.”
“If Arbitron is the standard in terms of traditional AM and FM radio then it’s a flawed standard.” -Joe the caller
Joe’s point would be more valid if he wasn’t just complaining that he wanted to earn the money without doing the work.
“One of the most fascinating things I’ve seen over the 5+ years that PPM has been in use is how much and how fast listening habits are evolving and changing. Nothing stays static in PPM, and we’re finding that radio listening is dynamic. This continually motivates broadcasters to continue offering compelling content on stations with clear and strong brand images, so that they can cut through with listeners in an ever more crowded media world.” – Jon Miller, Arbitron VP of Programming Services
Clear. Strong. Brands. Cut Through.
And I would add this:
“PPM isn’t perfect, but it’s all we’ve got.” – Larry Gifford
Upon Further Review
We can’t force our ideal listeners to participate – it’s a roll-of-the-dice and sometimes you roll snake eyes.
Arbitron is weeding out at least some of the cheaters. Good.
We can’t know “true” listening behavior without NSA quality spy equipment and the violation of our listener’s constitutional rights.
Stations and panelists are both trying to game the system. Makes me wonder who Arbitron is gaming.
The sample size is what it is, unless stations want to spend even more ridiculous amounts of money to be told your station is still – awesome, sucky, irrelevant, vital – depending on the time of the month.
The success or failure of your station is in the hands of Caller Joe. Good luck.