When RAJAR, The U.K.’s radio ratings service abandoned Arbitron’s PPM last year, one of the reasons cited was, "respondent compliance, particularly at breakfast time (morning drive)." Read about it here.
The group found that morning numbers were lower with PPM and they thought it might be because participants weren’t donning their meters until well after they had started their morning routine. For British broadcasters, the missing morning numbers were a deal breaker.
Not so in the US. As Arbitron rolled out PPM in the US, they admitted that morning numbers were lower with PPM compared to diary measured listenership. Broadcasters seemed unfazed. Perhaps because business was a lot stronger then, or because broadcasters felt the value of electronic measurement more than compensated for the loss of morning numbers, there was very little serious discussion about why PPM morning numbers were so much lower than diary numbers.
Perhaps dismissing the loss was a mistake. With double digit declines in revenue and the sizable investment many stations have made in morning talent, declining fortunes in morning drive have taken their toll on the bottom line.
What if the UK broadcasters had it right in the first place? What if Arbitron is under-measuring morning listenership? Now that radio is scrapping for every dollar it can find, maybe it’s time to revisit the loss of morning numbers with PPM and see if there’s something to British concerns.
Keep in mind that during the Philadelphia test Arbitron said that market figures tracked between dairies and PPM, but that individual stations gained cume and lost AQH. That might have been true in the Philadelphia test, but as PPM has rolled out it has become clear that over-all listening is down. Yes, people are listening to more stations, but according to PPM, total listening is smaller. That is particularly true in morning drive.
If we average the top three markets, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and compare last Winter’s diary numbers to this January’s PPM morning drive numbers, here’s what it looks like. The average over-all morning drive cume decline is nearly 12%. According to PPM, 12% fewer people in the top three markets tune to radio during morning drive. More alarming is the decline in TSL to radio. Radio TSL has declined by a third with PPM. The modest decline of cume combined with a huge decline in TSL results in an AQH persons decline of a whopping 40%!
The case made by Arbitron is that the numbers are what they are. People inflated their radio listening when they were filling out diaries, and now PPM tells us the truth. But is that all there is to it?
Our research shows that of all dayparts, morning drive listenership is the most consistent and predictable. Working people and those who live in households with working people generally wake up, shower, have breakfast, and leave for work at about the same time every work day. They also tend to listen to the same small set of radio stations. Even incurable button pushers who might scan a dozen stations at other times of the day tend to use just a few during morning drive. We also find that even those who do not listen to radio the rest of the day tune to it in the mornings.
Our study of listener behavior concludes that diary entries were probably most accurate for morning drive, and became less accurate as the day progressed and listening became more random. We therefore believe that the diary based estimates of Arbitron probably more accurately portray morning radio listening than current PPM estimates. We therefore share RAJAR’s concerns about morning compliance. PPM may be under-reporting morning listenership.
RAJAR spent over $5 Million dollars studying electronic measurement before they decided to ditch PPM and go to an on-line diary. How much have US broadcasters spent validating PPM?